Headlights and Evangelicals

This show Friday (March 7) at Schubas was a double bill I’d been looking forward to for a while, teaming up the latest weird outfit to emerge out of Oklahoma, Evangelicals, with Champaign’s finest pop band of the moment, Headlights. Evangelicals put on a searing performance last year at SXSW, and their new album, The Evening Descends (on the Dead Oceans label, the latest offshoot of the excellent Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar labels in Indiana), is a strong followup to their debut, So Gone. This is a band that plays its music drenched in reverb and psychedelic sounds, to the point where the songs themselves may get a little too obscured. The tunes underneath all of those echoes are worth finding, though, with tons of emotion, poetic lyrics and vocals that careen into falsetto with a daring sense of recklessness. That phrase that fellow Oklahomans the Flaming Lips used to describing themselves, “fearless freaks,” is also an apt description of these guys. Paralleling that layered, hazy sound, Evangelicals presented a similarly obscured visual spectacle last night, playing with almost no lights other than their own black light and strobes. On top of that, a fog machine kept pouring out smoke and the microphone stands were shrouded in handkerchiefs. Once the band asked the sound guy to turn down the reverb just a little bit, a passionate performance emerged out of the murk.

See my photos of Evangelicals. (I did what I could…)

Headlights was another band that impressed me last year at SXSW, with a new record out in early 2008, Some Racing, Some Stopping. Last night, it struck me that their music is reminiscent of the quieter and prettier music that Yo La Tengo does. The basic melodies on guitar or keyboard are fairly simple and usually bright in tone, and the vocal harmonies are lovely, too. When the songs do build to more of a rocking sound, it’s in the way that the Feelies used to do it, with hypnotic repetition. At several points, more than one member of Headlights kneeled on the floor, twiddling with effects pedal rather than playing notes on their instruments, creating oscillating effects – but all in the service of a good song rather than for the purpose of creating noise.

See my photos of Headlights.

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