Collections Of Colonies Of Bees: Cactus Club, 12-19-08

Sun Dec 28 2008

So, I skipped out on work in order to avoid getting stuck in Mequon in a blizzard, but no amount of snow could keep me from my first Collections of Colonies of Bees show. Evidently, though, Ma Nature prevented The Wordplay from making it, so at a late hour, Sleep Tight Co. came onstage. As the band played, I now realize that although I’d stopped drinking, the deed was done. It had been a long day. My notes on this performance are mostly unreadable (hey, it was dark in there). I recall the large but humble presence of frontman Aaron Spransy just barely carrying the first fifteen minutes or so, but on the third or fourth song the band suddenly sprung to life; it was almost night and day. I felt it was a combination of warming into a set and saving the best songs for last. Even with the sporadic miscues, I enjoyed the performance.

I think I psyched myself up too much for CoCoB, so the set was a bit of a letdown. I don’t expect KISS or anything, but I still feel that a modicum of showmanship, at least some stage presence, is an essential part of a live show. I’ll take nothing away from guitarist and founding member Chris Rosenau; it would have made more sense for him to be the physical focal point. Unfortunately, his movement was more noticeable by default than the sound he was making. Keyboardist Jim Schoenecker, front and center, spent most of his time onstage staring almost motionlessly at a laptop screen and fiddling with electronic effects. He’d occasionally have a few bars to jam out with his keytar, but it always seemed that he wanted to get back to the computer. I’ll give him a lot of credit for making a lot of the sounds happen that I couldn’t exactly identify, but he embodied visual distraction.

That could be forgiven if the band had truly delivered musically. The set started off pretty well but crashed quickly with the opening section of “Flocks I” from their latest full-length, Birds. Everyone was totally out of time for at least the first couple of minutes; with all the digital enhancements these guys bring to the stage, they might want to start using a click track (it’s not cheating, guys). Once everyone got in synch the song recovered, but the inherent problem with this set was still evident: on record, it makes sense to tweak and overdub and perfect the sound of your electronic post-rock, but we’re in the Cactus Club here. You’re never going to get a studio sound, so how about cranking up the guitar, which we could barely discern for most of the set? Play a show, rather than trying to produce another version of the record. The program continued on, and there were a few intense moments, but the nuances of the bleeps and blurps and washes of effects aren’t going to come through like on wax. There are bands who can create this kind of sonic assault with a couple guitars and a drum kit while staring at their shoes. CoCoB venture further afield on record but, at least for this performance, haven’t nailed the whole point of playing live. Birds was one of the best albums to come out of Milwaukee in 2008, but some music is best experienced with headphones on and eyes closed; the calculations are best heard and not seen.

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