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Two Bands at the Top of Their Game

September 14th, 2011

Fruit Bats/Vetiver – The Bowery Ballroom – September 13, 2011


Like a fine wine expertly matched to an equally delectable entrée, Fruit Bats and Vetiver were an inspired double bill at The Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday night. Opening with “Wonder Why” off the new album, The Errant Charm, Andy Cabic and the rest of Vetiver invited the crowd in with a dreamy, light sound. Taking in the music as a whole, overlapping guitars, vocals and organs, everything in complete resonance, it’s clear that it isn’t easy to conceive of and make this music. But the group made it look effortless. The start of the set was punctuated by a ’60s psych sound with a Byrds guitar tone, a bass guitar that looked (and sounded) like it was stolen from Paul McCartney’s closet and three-part harmonies that Brian Wilson might have diagrammed.

As the set progressed, Cabic brought his band through a bit of genre splicing, mixing in bluesy stretches, surf, dance and country twang. Composed precision opened up into sweet little jams that always went just far enough. A disco ball hangs tantalizingly over the stage at The Bowery Ballroom and it’s not a question of “if” but “when” it should get used during any set. For Vetiver it was perfectly placed for the album’s dreamiest number, “It’s Beyond Me,” with the spinning lights matching the music’s mood. Fruit Bats’ Eric Johnson joined in on an excellent rendition of “I Must Be in a Good Place Now,” previewing the main course to come.

The disco ball came out early during the Fruit Bats set, lighting up the first of many songs off their superlative new album, Tripper. Like with Vetiver, Johnson and the band made it look easy as well, but more like an elite athlete: graceful, powerful and with no wasted motion. A twanging Telecaster easily mixed with Johnson’s soulful vocals, danceable bass, drums and keys on older tunes like the superbly realized “Feather Bed,” off The Ruminant Band, and new classics like “Tangie and Ray.” The disco ball returned, lit up but stationary at first, for “Flamingo,” which set up a nice psychedelic jam as the lights began spinning. This was clearly an act working its repertoire to craft a top-notch live set while perfectly balancing tight playing with a loose, organic atmosphere. Great live bands save the best for last, and, played with members of Vetiver, the encore—the supergroovy “You’re Too Weird,” from Tripper, and The Ruminant Band’s title track—left no doubt in the minds of those in the audience that they had just seen nothing less than greatness. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of JC McIlwaine | www.jcmcilwaine.com