Explode Into Colors

I was looking for something new and different to see Friday night, and I found it — an exciting all-female trio from Portland, Ore., called Explode Into Colors. This group doesn’t even have a proper album out yet, just a cassette and some singles, but it’s already making very lively, percussion-heavy rock. When I heard that they were an all-girl trio from the Pacific Northwest, I immediately thought of Sleater-Kinney. Explode Into Color’s music is more out there, more experimental than S-K, though there’s a similar sense of energy.

The Explode ladies put on a really good show Friday (Feb. 5) at Subterranean. Although the songs sound like they’re anchored by bass lines, that’s actually lead singer Claudia Meza’s baritone guitar. And no wonder the recordings sound like they have a lot of drums — Lisa Schonberg drums while Heather Treadway is a triple threat on drums, keyboards and vocals. The three of them were lined up across the front of the Subt stage. When a band doesn’t hide the drum kit in back, that’s always a sign that you’re going to hear some music with interesting percussion, and that turned out to be the case Friday night. Explode Into Colors does not apparently have a lot of songs yet, and the trio played a fairly short set during this show, which was their first appearance in Chicago. Hope they’re back soon.

Alas, the bracing set by Explode Into Colors was a sharp contrast with the cheesy opening sets by two Chicago groups. I hate to tear down any aspiring local musical act with harsh criticism, and I’ll note that both of the opening bands did draw a decent number of fans. But it’s a shame Subterranean didn’t find more appropriate openers to go with Explode Into Colors.

Photos of Explode Into Colors.

Os Mutantes at Subt

Os Mutantes were one of the great bands from the late ’60s/early ’70s era of psychedelic Brazilian music known as tropicalia — but most of us American rock fans didn’t discover these “mutants” until much later. Some of the group’s original members reunited in 2006, playing at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago among other venues, performing its technicolor tunes for a new generation of fans. And now Os Mutantes has released its first new album in 35 years, Haih… Ou Amortecedor…. It’s a reunion of questionable authenticity in one sense — only one member of Os Mutantes’ original core trio, Sergio Dias, is in the new version of the band. But Dias and the six other musicians he has assembled certainly have the same spirit as the original Os Mutantes, and one thing that’s especially exciting about the new record is the participation of another Brazilian tropicalia legend, Tom Ze, who co-wrote six of the 13 songs with Dias.

Os Mutantes played Sunday night (Sept. 27) at Subterranean in Chicago. I would have thought this band could fill a bigger venue in Chicago, but I suppose tropicalia remains a somewhat obscure genre, beloved by a small cult. It was a little disappointing to see these musical legends playing in front of such a small crowd, but by the end of the night, the audience was clapping and calling out with such rabid enthusiasm that all of my disappointment vanished. This was one of the best receptions I’ve seen any group get in Chicago for a while, and the Brazilians were beaming with big smiles on the stage as they brought down the house.

Classic songs from the early days of Os Mutantes (available on the highly recommended collection Everything Is Possible!) dominated the first part of the show, then the band played several songs from the new record in the middle of the set. The new songs fit quite well with the old ones. And then the band returned to some of its oldies at the end of the show. Singer Bia Mendes did a fine job singing the female vocal parts originally handled by Rita Lee.

What was striking more than anything else was Dias’ guitar playing. I hadn’t realized just what a virtuoso he is, and it was wonderful watching him playing peculiar psychedelic riffs, along with some guitar licks that even sounded a bit like Thin Lizzy or the Byrds. And then he really stretched out on some long guitar solos, including an amazing extended version of “Ando Meio Desligado” near the end of the set. For its encore, Os Mutantes played one of its strangest early epics, “Panis Et Circenses,” and it was a delight to hear the band singings its kaleidoscopic harmonies.

The opening band was Brooklyn-based DeLeon, which claims to perform “15th Century Spanish indie rock infused with the deeply mysterious and entrancing cadences of the ancient Sephardic tradition.” The group sang some of its songs in Ladino, the Judaeo-Spanish language, and I preferred those to the lyrics translated into English. A couple of the songs had some lovely counterpart harmonies, and most of the songs were pretty good. But DeLeon was playing without two of its regular members, including the drummer, using prerecorded backing tracks that reduced the sense of spontaneity.

Photos of Os Mutantes and DeLeon.

The Antlers at Subterranean

The Antlers were one of the bands I caught for a few minutes as I was racing around Union Park during the Pitchfork Music Festival earlier this summer. I liked what I heard, but it wasn’t the best way to experience a new band. Since then, I’ve been listening to the Antlers’ album, Hospice, and it just keeps burrowing deeper into my brain. This could be one of the year’s best CDs. The subject matter is dark — this is a song cycle about a terminally ill child in hospice — and yet, like some narratives about painful topics, Hospice feels cathartic at times, soothing at other moments. The music shifts, too, from soaring and powerful rock to hushed meditations. Singer-songwriter Peter Silberman often sings in a falsetto, and the music sometimes sounds a little like Radiohead, a little like the Arcade Fire, but original in the way these influences blend together.

The Antlers played Monday night (Sept. 21) at Chicago’s Subterranean, and the songs sounded beautiful live. The set included all the songs on Hospice except the first two tracks (“Prologue” and “Kettering”), plus the song “Cold War” for the encore. Silberman and his bandmates (Michael Lerner on drums and Darby Cicci on keyboards and bass pedals) delivered the music like a pretty typical band, without a lot of showmanship. In his stage presence, Silberman offers few hints that he is singing lyrics that seem to be revealing private secrets. He’s not one of those musicians who turns songs into dramatic shows. Just as well, I suppose — the music might be just too much to take if he did. I still sensed that the Antlers fans in the crowd who knew the songs well were feeling some of that catharsis in the way they responded.


Photos of the Antlers.