Sunday, August 3, 2008

Via Audio Plays Bowery Ballroom

It is a fine line that musicians (or all artists, really) tread. The goal is to be a commodity: to fit a bill or have a skill that others don’t, or to have a sound so unique that you are in a league of your own. But you go too far across that line and you may offend or lose the interest of listeners; you play it too safe and listeners will move right on to something edgier. It seems that some bands have developed a stratagem, then, of versatility: a way to cover their bases and dabble in all sorts of sounds, like a politician trying to please as many people as possible.

Playing at the Bowery Ballroom on July 31st, the Boston/NYC based band, Via Audio, took the audience on somewhat of a musical tour. While some songs are all about the words (often about regret, skepticism, moving on...), others have hardly any lyrics to speak (or sing) of, replaced by bright and loud melodies, somewhat disconnected vocal harmonies and driving drum beats. There seemed to be much more versatility in the live show than is characteristic of the band’s albums. Just when it seemed clear that they were a garage rock band, they’d lean on the synthesizers or the keyboard and the music took a turn for pop. In the next song, the drums would introduce a reggae beat, or the guitars would riff off into heavy metal land. Then, out of nowhere, there would be a horn section (with members clad in the requisite dark sunglasses), taking the music back towards big band jazz. Even a flute made an appearance, adding an entirely new, softer dimension to a sound that by that point had become quite metal. These are instruments that are not utilized as much on the album and really threw the band’s sound in a different direction.

Whatever their sound, whatever they play, they play it well. What helps them stand out, though, is their casual and playful energy on stage. It felt like a big party (four band members, plus up to four guest musicians); like witnessing a jam session that happened to be catering to an audience. Whenever a part wasn’t in the fray, such as the trumpets or the saxophone, the musicians danced around on the side, singing along with the sultry voice of lead singer, Jessica Martins.

It is commonplace, and often helpful, to assign definitions to people or things, to put them in a box. But doing so can be extremely limiting and even destructive, especially when it comes to music or the arts. Well, Via Audio cannot be put into any one box, their sound is not easily labeled or defined. Whether this makes them a commodity or a confused lot is up for debate, but in the mean time, they put on quite an entertaining show.

(top photo courtesy of Via Audio's blog, bottom photo from the band's live show at the Lion's Den and courtesy of "The View from My Seat" blog)

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