White Rabbit Wisconsin-based Daredevil Christopher Wright are not a band that you can easily classify, so let’s start by saying their music is intelligent, well-instrumented, indie-rock. Beyond that, they seem to be all over the place in terms of genre and style, experimenting with different instruments, beats, textures, whatever seems to float their boat and keep things lively; indeed, no two of their songs seem to sound alike, and you tend to watch closely if only to see what they’re going to do or say next.
They started out their set with a sort of a cappella Gregorian chant kind of thing—very reverent, very religious—before going on to variously recall Paul Simon, Simon & Garfunkel (there’s a difference), the bright togetherness of mid-60s Mersey, and even a distinctly psychedelic alternative vibe. How did they accomplish all of this? Starting with clear, bright-toned voices, the three-man band used at various times, acoustic & electric guitars, a bass, keyboard, and a flute (and I may have forgotten one or two instruments). In addition, the drummer plays on just about everything in sight: starting with the xylophone case, continuing to a beat-up, chewed up crash cymbal, and including the actual skins occasionally. The lead guitarist’s use of his acoustic guitar like a harp underscored the way these guys seem to try and coax everything they possibly can out of their instruments.
Lyrically, they seem caught in that early adult (late 20s early 30s) reverie in which people look back at the mistakes and loves of their youth and figure out a way to move forward; singing about going to graduate school, old loves who’ve gotten married, and even choosing careers (“I’ve got plans to be a playwright/you’ve got plans to work for the airline”) they keep a mostly introspective and nostalgic overtone.
Caroline Smith & The Goodnight Sleeps came on before DDCW. If you’re going to include your own name in the name of the band, you’d better be damned good. In this case, I’d say the eponymous Caroline Smith earns the right; she’s got a sweet, self-possessed, Joanna Newsom-like voice, some pretty good chops on the guitar, and—I feel it’s worth mentioning—is also extremely attractive.
Another instrument-switching band, Smith switched from the guitar to the banjo now and then, while fronting the band’s alt-country and bluegrass-influenced rock. Sometimes they played with a country shuffle, other times they seemed to let the chords bulge out a little bit in standard, three-chord rock. Lyrics like “what’s the use of quitting smoking just to live without you” made me chuckle for their sort of adolescent, emo charm. Smith closed the set with a finger-picked acoustic song.
Indy’s own Christian Taylor (of Homeschool, America Owns the Moon, and Scene Elders) warmed up the night with a few songs, some standards, some new. At one point he proclaimed very seriously that he has been in a “Neil Young phase,” and then laughed out loud as soon as he said it. “Yeah, for the past ten years,” he added. Taylor, along with Andrew Gustin (on melodica, harmonica, and mandolin) and his drummer for a few songs, played his classic and one of my favorites “Smoke in my Eyes,” before breaking out a few songs that he plans to release on a double 7” record in March, including “Such a Creation,” (“The only thing between god and me is god and me”). He also covered P.O.N.S. song, as well as Neil Young’s “Little Wing,” and one of his own new compositions. Although still somewhat interesting on a lyrical level, his new song didn’t seem to have quite the same degree of complexity as songs like “Smoke in my Eyes.”