Most shows begin and end with the house lights switching on or off. It’s an efficient way for the venue to notify the audience to head away from the bar and towards the stage, and then that the encore is over and the band is done with their set. On Thursday night, however, the house lights consistently stayed at a dim level, always enveloping the bands in a low-lit haze. For 2:54 and Widowspeak, this was more than advantageous.
The first band, Piano Piano, opened the night exactly the way it should have been: with a wall of feedback. The local four-piece only played a few songs, but each was a long, crushing epic of a tune. Mostly instrumental, the band recalls Explosions in the Sky minus their tender moments, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and as they walked offstage, their amps still spewing feedback, the tone of the night was firmly set.
After a short break to switch up gear, Brooklyn via Tacoma’s Widowspeak took the stage after nearly missing the gig due to car trouble. Hypnotic and narcotic, Widowspeak’s set was a stark change of pace from Piano Piano’s freight train of a show, but the band were no less fascinating.
Singer/guitarist Molly Hamilton is like a (slightly) more extroverted Hope Sandoval - just as alluring and mysterious, but more mobile and expressive. The rest of the band followed her lead, aiming for atmosphere over pure energy. However, finding that sweet spot proved difficult for Widowspeak, who battled sound issues throughout the whole show. The band was excellent, but without a good sound mix, all of their subtleties were lost in the haze.
As 2:54 kicked into their first song, it was clear that they would suffer the same fate as Widowspeak. Although not quite as muscular as Piano Piano, the London-based group certainly have more punch in their sound than their tourmates. The rhythm section of Alex Robins and Joel Porter was consistently powerful and steady, but the Thurlow sisters seemed to fade in and out sonically. Collette’s vocals were often drowned out by the band’s wall of guitars, which left the band without their trademark serpentine harmonies. Thankfully, the echoing chill of Hannah Thurlow’s guitar leads remained intact, which was a nice consolation. As the band finished up their hour-long set, they took the shortest encore break I’ve ever seen (they only walked offstage long enough to disappear from sight, then returned. The whole thing couldn’t have been more than ten seconds.) to rip through one more number.
I’ll admit that when you’ve got sonic pioneers like Rob Ellis and Alan Moulder producing your album, there’s not much room for improvement in terms of sound, but the audio mix at the Crocodile on Thursday night turned what could’ve been a great show into a merely good one.