A Lot Like Birds, Not to Reason Why, Early States, The Dreaded Diamond, Cryptics

Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 – The Refuge – Sacramento

Words by Bobby S. Gulshan – Photo by Cait Loper

The Refuge played host to an eclectic bill of hard-hitting bands from around Northern California. The Cryptics, a three-piece from Santa Cruz, Calif., opened the evening with a set of tunes that combined bite and sweetness. Part power pop, part jagged punk rock, The Cryptics relied on pulsing, driving rhythms and machine gun staccato guitar riffs. As the audience trickled into the space that serves double-duty as a Lutheran Church, the Cryptics took the chance to warm the crowd and prepare them for the night.

The Dreaded Diamond brought an unexpected hint of soul to the evening. The two-piece brother and sister act–featuring Juli Lydell on keys and vocals and Tyler Lydell on drums–combine a heavy percussive attack with melodies that at times soar and at other times lilt with emotional fragility. Despite only featuring two people on stage, there was no lack of presence. Juli’s stage persona is magnified not only by precocious lyrical content, but also her witty engagement with the audience. Songs like “Alphonse Muca” contain enough complexity to run the gamut from indie folk to soulful pop, making you wonder what Natasha Bedingfield might sound like if she had street cred.

Early States brought an air of big stage pomp, featuring a lighting rig and stage smoke that would be appropriate on an arena tour. However, the big-time stage setup was justified by the bright energy the Sacramento three-piece brought to the audience. A faithful cadre of fans crowded the front of the stage and danced to the techno-infused pop and sang along to infectious choruses. Early States sound relates to that of Muse without the paranoia, and in fact presents an epic send-up of an emerging generation flush with optimistic possibility. Fans sang along to “Stop Calling Me Out,” the chorus of which describes defiance in the face of frustration and judgment. The band ended with “Smoke in My Eyes,” a song driven by a jangly guitar riff reminiscent of classic U2 and a perfect coda to an energetic set.

“We’ve been called ‘moody,’” said Not to Reason Why guitarist Ian Simpson. In stark contrast to Early States, Not to Reason Why, a four-piece instrumental group from Petaluma, Calif., enveloped the venue in a sinuous darkness, like objects roughhewn out of obsidian. Combining hauntingly gentle piano melodies and arpeggiated guitar lines, Not to Reason Why lulled the audience into a reflective moment, and then would lambaste them with sonic dirges that would be well suited for the soundtrack to the end of days. The final tune, “Good Afternoon,” began with the bass player picking up a guitar, and the drummer switching to bass, as the band wove a tense lullaby that eventually arrived at epic, post-metal bombast as the drummer returned to his post and stark white light enveloped the stage during a powerfully sludging finale.

A Lot Like Birds closed out the evening with their pummeling brand of hardcore. The screams were accompanied by the melodic wails of Kurt Travis, formerly of Dance Gavin Dance, and the twin vocal attack added depth to the presentation. A Lot Like Birds convulsed with tense energy, attacking with a sonic barrage. Most of the songs they played remain untitled, but what’s vital is the energy. A Lot Like Birds are technically savvy, and some of the tunes proceed with a barely controlled chaos, as if it will fall apart at any moment, only to turn on a dime and crush you with a driving breakdown. These guys can play, and they definitely left a pint of blood up on that stage. The audience was whipped into frenetic frenzy, head banging and writhing to every single break. The final tune, “My Body at War,” drove the crowd into a swirling mosh pit. The pure catharsis of A Lot Like Birds was the perfect exclamation point on an evening of wide ranging sounds.