JULY 1, 2005
THE TOUGH & LOVELY
THE REIGNING SOUND
Pity the band with that first opening-act slot… The musicians walk out onto the stage in front of a mostly empty dance floor, which will be packed with people later on the same night. Or so I was thinking as the first group got ready to play tonight. I wasn’t even sure what they were called (and despite the lead singer’s saying the name a couple of times, I wasn’t sure that they were the Tough & Lovely until I stopped by the merch table later).
But tonight it took all of about five seconds to recognize that the lead singer of the Columbus, Ohio-based Tough & Lovely, Lara Yazvac, has quite a voice — big and brassy, and totally in her control. And the band sounded pretty tight as it played some darn catchy songs, very much rooted in the sound of the early ’60s. With Yazvac on vocals, it was hard not to think of the classic girl groups from that era, though, not suprisingly, the Tough & Lovely are contemporary enough to add a touch of punk here and there. Some fine organ playing was part of the mix, too.
It was clear the Tough & Lovely won over the crowd, even though most people at Subterranean had never heard their music before.I just had to stop by the merch table afterward and buy a copy of the Tough & Lovely’s 2004 CD Born of the Stars. Sounds good on first listen. One standout track is the one called “Tough and Lovely” — carrying on the odd tradition of songs with titles that are the same or similar to the band name. This is definitely a band to watch.
Catfish Haven had the middle slot. I’ve seen this Chicago trio a few times, usually as an opening act, and I have trouble mustering much enthusiasm for their music. If I heard a short snippet from one of their songs, I think I’d say it sounded good, and some of the snippets might even sound great, but the lack of variety in their songs becomes a little tedious after a while. It’s all song at the same intense pitch, with lots of heavily strummed acoustic guitar on top of the bass and drums. I kept thinking that I might like this music better if these three musicians had some additional helpers to balance out the sound — maybe a real lead guitarist who could take solos, or a keyboard player, or a female singer. Anything to add something different.
The Reigning Sound are also a trio, and like Catfish Haven, they don’t really change up their basic sound that much during the course of a show. But their sound is so good, and their songs are so good, that it hardly matters.
Singer-guitarist Greg Cartwright plays with a no-frills set up — no effects pedals, no electric tuner. At the end of the show he played about four songs without bothering to fix a broken string. He didn’t even have a set list on the floor in front of him. He occasionally consulted a song list sitting behind him on an amp, but it seemed more like he was running through a list of available songs to see which ones they hadn’t played yet. A couple of times, the Reigning Sound obliged audience requests, and during the encore, Cartwright had to come over and tell the bassist the chords for a song they hadn’t rehearsed.
The fans loved it all, singing along with the Reigning Sound’s garage rock anthems. I can’t wait for their new album.