Somebody Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
There is something at the same time fascinating and irritating about a band having a name as Somebody Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.
It is half genius, half lack of information.
Genius because, strictly speaking, with such a name there is no doubt anyone reading about you will forget. Then pushing it a bit, if you are curious enough you will want to listen to what they play. I belong to the curious enough.
Irritating because of the many historical figures deserving to be still loved, Boris Yeltsin is not really ranking high. The first president of Russia, had the huge duty of transforming a socialist republic into a free market democracy and managed to fail quite dramatically on about everything but keeping taxes on vodka low.
Somebody Still Loves You Salvador Allende would sound much cooler, to me at least, but I don’t count.
By the way, I am not talking about politics and these four guys from Missouri aren’t either, the name is too long to write everytime so, from now on, they will be SSLYBY which is as bad but at least it is meaningless.
Formed in 1999 SSLYBY walked the well tracked long path of the independent USA music.
Few years spent playing and writing music, low budget, lo-fi equipment, split records, many ideas, word of mouth spreading among friends and early fans, lots of gigs waiting for someone to notice and sign you.
Which happened some years later. They first managed to record and release their debut album, Broom in 2005. It was then remastered professionally and re-released on on Polyvinyl, the quickest of the labels to sign them the next year.
The following five years were key to bring the band from Springfield, MO, to the hipsters-rich, cool, posh East London to play this headline gig at the sold-out Hoxton Bar and Grill, saw the band very busy.
The second album, Pershing in 1998 wasn’t welcomed as well as the debut. It is probably true that some songs lack of the freshness of the debut (something that must be said happens to the 87% of bands recording a second LP) but in the end it is a good album persevering on the line of good songwriting, catchy melodies and overall a lighthearted tunes that confines SSLYBY as an already classic example of north-american, off track (I mean they are NOT from New York!) alternative scene.
In a free market, the market rules, Boris Yeltsin should have taught them.
When a sophomore album isn’t confirming the expectations the path becomes harder.
Either you abandon or you must push and target some heavyweights. Checked.
SSLYBY succeed to contact Chris Walla to produce their third fatigue.
Death Cab For Cutie guitarist sits at the production mix (and plays some instruments too) for the Let it Sway, their just released.
Walla managed to improve the sound without changing the band backbone. Let it Sway is plenty of hooks, sing-a-long choruses and everything you need to enjoy pop at its indie best.
So far, from the curiosity of the name to the gig, I made quite few progresses towards my appreciation of the band.
When finally at 10pm they stick an handwritten piece of paper on the floor with hints of the song titles a.k.a. setlist the wait is finally over.
Thanks to that words, some translation skills and with the help of internet and Spotify I can now say they opened the gig with Some Constellation a song from Pershing that instantly showed how sophisticate their music is played.
SSLYBY play with a classy style, something (I have to say) that comes mostly from American bands.
These guys not only knows how to write songs, but also know how to play and arrange them.
Guitar arpeggios overlaps, bass and drums never expected or banal, delicate waves of sound keep delicate to not damage the overall sensation of satisfaction that this music transmits.
Something that only the best of alternative american music, the one started with R.E.M., followed by Wilco and, of course, Death Cab For Cutie, can do.
I am quite surprised to see how much the audience is into the songs. They know most of the lyrics by heart and sing along them.
The most effective choruses create an uprising as for Banned (By the Man) which arrives fourth on the list and is one of the pop-iest song they have.
Glue Girls is another example from Pershing to show that allmusic got it wrong, the song is beautiful tonight. Made to Last is a perfect title for another catchy tune with a retro feeling picked from the latest album.
The gig flows for about ten songs like this, with a line up that sees John Robert Cardwell on guitar and vocals, Jonathan James on bass, Phil Dickey on drums and Will Knauer on lead guitar.
Not saying this to bore you.
After House Fire the unexpected (to me) happens and the band line change completely. With the exception of the lead guitarist, Will Knauer, everyone swap places. John Robert Cardwell leaves the guitar to move to the bass. Jonathan James (they look so similar I thought they were brothers until I reached Wiki) moves to the drums and Phil Dickey comes front to take the guitar and vocals duties.
As often happens when a drummer moves to guitar the strumming gets more rhythmic (I will never manage to explain what I mean, in English, better… so stuck with this!) Modern Mystery and in Pairs are the first two songs they play with this line-up which doesn’t sound as convincing and I hope it goes back to the original, but it does not.
Thankfully Back in The Saddle, the opening track from Let it Sway, makes me rething once again. Such another brilliant pop song that grows into the second huge sing-along.
This nice night of “shiny happy people” ends on a high with two songs from the debut Broom. Gwyneth and Oregon Girl close a lighthearted gig, impeccably played and full of memorable songs.
If there is one thing you can accuse SSLYBY of it is to be in some moments a bit predictable. Even without knowing the song you know where it is going to go. It is “easy-listening”, it gives the reassuring sensation of walking a known path, but it is a nice walk.
Considering how many bands manage to reach the charts with a single song and useless fillers, it is outrageous that a band with such a taste for hooky melodies and songs’ craftmanship hasn’t yet reached the big audience it deserves.
Since I started shooting gigs also on digital, I developed a phobia. Dust on the sensor! I don’t even know how risky it is and how easy it is to remove it, but I prefer not to change lenses, not as often as I used to.
The phobia won over my love for primes and when I bought my first DSLR I opted for the almighty 24-70mm f2.8 zoom. Now considering the D700 easily shoots at 3200 and 6400 ISO without irritating noise, the f2.8 is fast enough for most of concert situations in fact I am not missing the f1.4 (manual focused)!
If you need only one lens to shoot concerts, this is the one I would suggest.
True, a slightly longer focal on the telephoto would come useful at times, as well as a wider angle for some dramatic perspectives, but if you use a photojournalist attitude and instead of zooming you get used to move yourself towards or back from the subject you will see that 99% of the photographic needs are well satisfied by this wonderful glass. Wonderful to the point that I am mostly going to gigs with it mounted on and nothing else.