School of Seven Bells Debut New Record Live
The ethereal band learns the limits of a first performance -- but their fans couldn't be happier to have them back.
If there were any opening night jitters, they were shared equally between the sound guy and a MacBook.
After guitarist Benjamin Curtis and keyboardist-singer Claudia Deheza stared pleadingly into the glow of a malfunctioning laptop, the machine finallycame to life, the lights went low, and a playful bellow of “It’s about fucking time! We love you!” came from somewhere in the crowd as the full band took to the stage.
Joined by Claudia’s twin sister, Alejandra Deheza, on vocals and guitar and Zachary Saginaw on drums, the band launched into “Windstorm,” the first single from their forthcoming sophomore release Disconnect from Desire, out July 13th.
For a band rightfully praised for its ethereality and otherworldly vocal harmonies, the sound that filled the small room of the Echo in Los Angeles was surprisingly percussive and floor rattling. The interplay between vocals and guitar, keyboards and samples, that serves to elevate the band’s precise, complicated melodies was continually beaten down for the first half of the set by the kind of low-end you feel uncomfortably in your bones. The Deheza sisters adjusted their ear monitors repeatedly and visibly contorted to hit their harmonies, but their voices (the band’s best feature) were buried beneath the bombast.
It wasn’t until “Babelonia,” another new song, that things began to even out, the vocals began to lift, and some actual melodies could be heard emerging from Curtis’ white and black Les Paul. (Perhaps the sound guy’s a holdover from his previous band Secret Machines, who reveled in all things bass drum?) Curtis’ guitar came fully alive during “Bye Bye Bye,” and the Deheza sisters fell in step together by song’s end, with discernable words finally emerging from beneath the murk.
This was by no means a calamitous performance, but rather the sight and sound of a band on its first night out with all new songs, discovering for themselves how they work in a live setting.
In fact, one of the many pleasures of School of Seven Bells is how their music can be deconstructed into simple acoustic arrangements and built back up again into the layered computer-generated landscapes that make up the bulk of their recorded material. It’s likely that over the course of the short first leg of this tour, on the eve of the new record’s release, that the band will cohere and adjust and remake these songs in a way that plays better to their strengths.
Encore track “My Cabal” sounded practically revelatory, either because it’s a familiar single from their debut Alpinisms, or because they’ve played it live so much they easily hit their marks.
Fans of their first record will find the songs from Disconnect a little more synth-heavy, with a track like “Dust Devil” even employing bold use of an ’80s-style drum machine aping rolling stadium-sized fills. This made the use of a live drummer even more surprising and further proof that the band is still experimenting with how to present their new material.
The sold-out crowd didn’t seem to mind, just happy to have the band back out West after a long absence. The Deheza sisters beamed with smiles throughout, Curtis circled and swayed in his own world behind them, Saginaw could often be seen standing and swatting at cymbals with mallets-the whole imperfect affair made winsome by a group of musicians thrilled to be back outside in the world playing their songs to people, not engineers.
As Curtis whipped up one last wall of noise to pierce through the crash of cymbal-shimmer on the epic closer “Sempiternal/Amaranth,” the Deheza sisters glanced at each other, laughed, and abandoned a last round of harmonies, capitulating to the boys in the back making all the ruckus. Here’s hoping that by next visit they’ll stand their ground and be heard.
2. Dust Devil
5. Bye Bye Bye
7. I L U
9. My Cabal