Last night I attended the second of two shows by the Stills at the Mercury Lounge. There is a lot of apprehension in the fanbase because of the shake-ups in the band roster. I have to say that after seeing the show, that apprehension is justified.
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by seeing other bands put on amazing shows such as Radiohead, Gomez or Thievery Corporation. These bands put out very polished albums but their live acts take them into a whole new spectrum of energy and sound. After these shows, bands like Weezer and Franz Ferdinand sort of bored me, not because they couldn't play live, but the songs sounded like carbon copies of the album. They still sound decent but not to the echelon that I’m used to.
So when I get to see the Stills, I’m disappointed at the muddy, loose sounds they make. The qualms over Dave Hamelin (former drummer, now co-lead vocalist) are valid. He just doesn’t have the vocal range or strength to carry most of the songs. I don’t think he was as bad as portrayed by the Crackers, but he wasn’t that good either.
That said, I’m not going to completely condemn this new strategy. Tom of Gomez has always contributed a few lead vocals on their albums, but early shows revealed an almost painfully off-key voice. Over the years, with either training or practice from constant touring, I’ve noticed that Tom has become a much improved, if not great singer. I was very moved by his solo waltz-version of Sweet Virginia at the Hiro Ballroom.
What really surprised me about the Stills concert was how shaky Tim Fletcher’s vocals were. I actually thought that he was off-key more often than Dave was. The addition of keyboards and horns seem like an attempt to mask these deficiencies. The Stills are looking more and more like a studio band.
So I’ll check out their new album when it comes out, but hearing some of the songs last night, I didn’t notice any evidence of progression from their phenomenal debut album. Logic Will Break Your Heart was one of the best albums to come out in the past few years. It has mature themes and sounds that seem to be completely lacking in their new work.
I’m wondering how much that has to do with the departure of their lead guitarist, Greg Paquet. Sure the face and voice of the band is still there but think how different Radiohead would be without Jonny Greenwood. Thom Yorke will always be the heart of Radiohead but much of the sound is created by Jonny, and I’m thinking this was the case with the Stills.
So have the Stills have lost that mature, dark sound only to replaced it with more pop and probably generic music? I’ll wait for the new album before I make a final verdict, but it’s not shaping up too well.