06 August 2005

My Sister is the Coolest...

Alright, big confession time here. I've never been to a real pop concert. I went to a Christian rock concert in high school (I think it was Jars of Clay), and it was loud and had flashing lights and smelled like a cat went everywhere (which my friends later explained was marijuana). I couldn't hear afterward, and I arrived home well after midnight, but still--it was a Christian rock concert, and there was this heavy conversion aspect, even though everyone there clearly was not in need of being converted. I've also been to a boat load of classical and various ethnic/world concerts, back during my music major years. The one was an old Native American woman and her accordion, and she was doing this thing, where she didn't play any music, but just interpreted what came to her in the ether. Uh, okay. In other words, random chords and squeaks and groans strung together. Mostly from the accordion. It was noise for high-minded people, and after four minutes you felt that insanity was not too far away. I lasted five minutes, and then my sister (who I'll refer to simply as E, since that seems very cool and covert) and I walked out, quite conspicuously. A few years later there was the rock-violinist Christina Fong who had a warning in the program that "this performance will employ strobe-lights and gun-shot sound effects." Yeah, more likely the patrons were putting themselves out of their misery. I lasted through one piece, and then I walked out. I still managed to write a review of it for the school paper the next day, though.

Obviously, my concert-going experiences have been atypical for someone my age. Thankfully, that all changed on Thursday, when E gave me the best day-after-birthday gift ever. She won two tickets to a concert in Grand Rapids through the local college station, the Impact, which plays a lot of indie stuff. It's actually an excellent student-run station; if you're ever in Lansing, be sure to tune to 88.9. Although she's better at telling the story (and probably has a nice version of it on her blog), the short of it is that you had to be the fifth caller, and she was the 2nd, 4th, and 5th caller. Two other people who would have been the fifth caller hung up for some unknown reason--I think my sister has some psychic powers :) As the deejay said to her "persistence pays off."

The tickets were for Blondfire, formerly known as Astaire (guess why the name had to be changed, hmmm), and I have to say that the group is awesome. I don't have some star or diamond rating system, but I'll simply say that I give them my most enthusiastic endorsement. Mark my word, this brother-sister duo (who are from near Grand Rapids, which also earns them points), will someday be huge. They're already getting a lot of play on iTunes, so clearly the mass appeal is present. As for how to describe them, their website does a good job. I guess I'd put them in the same category as the Cardigans, though I think Blondfire writes catchier hooks. They've toured with Ivy, and will be touring with Cake thiss Fall in Europe, if that helps to pinpoint their sound. Their most popular song ("L-L-Love") is a good example, but every song from the hour-long set they performed had this quality of being fresh but familiar. A little europop, a little 80's new wave--okay, a little everything from the last two decades of popular music, with the exception of country western and rap/hip hop. Although with their uncanny songwriting ability, I'm sure they could cross genres easily. They've written over 150 songs, and I cannot imagine that any of them are disappointing. Erica Driscoll does the vocals, and has a very pure, effortless sound. Again, Cardigan-ish but not so breathy, maybe a little like some of the Irish groups (Coors, Cranberries)--a nice change of pace, regardless. She and her brother Bruce both do guitar and keyboard, and he also does bass.

The setting at the Urban Institute was intimate--just about 50 people in attendance, in a small venue in downtown GR, and a stripped-down acoustic set. I tend to like these smaller, pared-down concerts, becauses it becomes more about the music and less about the extraneous aspects of performance. Every song they chose was a gem, and their on-stage banter is comfortable and unforced (Erica at one point commenting that Bruce "was sweating like Whitney Houston"; Bruce, referring to their L-L-Love song being used in the movie Monster-in-Law, saying tongue-in-cheek "I highly recommend the movie. In fact, it's now become my favorite movie..."). My personal favorites that evening were Right Where I Want You, Baby Blue, Paper Doll,...okay, so it's impossible to really choose favorites, because the ones that aren't my favorites are still so darned infectious.

What sets Erica and Bruce even more apart, however, is that they're genuinely nice and unaffected by their impending fame. E and I each got our CDs signed, and I got a t-shirt signed (which I never, ever do, but I think it was a worthwhile investment), and then we chatted with the sister and then the brother for a while. They were just so normal and down-to-earth; I was almost regretful that I didn't have a chance to talk more with them, and I'm not exactly an extrovert. I hope to see them perform again in the near future, though I'll always remember this first time as something very, very unique.

Blondfire is coming to New York in the coming weeks (check their website for dates and locations) and then are off to Spain in September. And in case this wasn't obvious from the past several paragraphs, let me reiterate: SEE THIS BAND.


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