Live Review: The Dig with The Sea Life and Pree at Black Cat Backstage, Washington DC – 4th December 2014

By on Monday, 8th December 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

I was thinking to myself the other day that it’d been a long time since I saw a show at Black Cat Backstage and when I looked it up, I was right. The last time I had passed through Backstage’s door, it was just prior to SXSW 2014, to see Public Service Broadcasting on a chilly winter night. I’d no way of knowing it at the time of course, but in 2 weeks’ time, I would become a different person. This past Thursday evening, it was another cold winter night, but I’d be seeing three American bands, including one I’ve had the great pleasure of see evolving over the last couple of years, and playing a packed room too that could not have made me happier for them.

The first of the two local openers for the night was Pree. If you’re wondering where their unusual name is from, singer/guitarist/keyboardist May Tabol took inspiration from the Neutral Milk Hotel song ‘A Baby for Pree’. You can’t draw any obvious comparisons to Jeff Mangum’s band to this one though. The band stars Tabol, guitar Michael Zepeda, bassist Ben Schurr and drummer Ben Usie. They’ve definitely got a unique, at times whimsical sound. It’s like a space-rock filter has been placed on top of a Little Comets‘ sonic landscape (check out the wonky main melody and those guitars on latest single ‘Two Feet Shy’ that sound like Mickey Coles is playing them). But they’ve got some cutesy, twee vocal lines too. They’ve got a new album, ‘Rima’, scheduled to be out in February 2015 on Paper Garden Records, so stay tuned for that.

The second opener was another local group, the inexplicably named The Sea Life. I say inexplicably, because at least two of their members are from the suburb I was raised in, so I know they were miles and miles away from any sort of seaside. Frontman Jon Weiss not only has an epic hipster beard, but he’s also quite funny, making jokes throughout their whole set with their drummer and clearly a close friend Ryan Witt, who I understand is their newest member after their original sticksman departed in 2013.

It’s been bothering me that one of their songs sounds just like something I used to hear a lot on 6music but I can’t put my finger on it. So I’m just going to have to compare them to the burgeoning (and popular) slacker rock scene we’re experiencing right now, which leads to the assumption they’d be a hit in the UK. There is a melody to their songs but with his voice, Weiss takes poetic license to let the vocal not follow any set line. The guitar effects used can run to the psychedelic, but the impression I get is they want to leave a dreamy feeling on their audience. Judging from the squeals and shouts of excitement from punters, they’ve already got a loyal DC following.

So, now to the headliner, The Dig. I first saw the Brooklyn-based band open for Editors in February 2010 during my second year of being a music journalist, and we’ve been friends since. Their latest release, the 2013 ‘You & I’ EP, sees the band taking a more dreamy approach, as evidenced by the echoey guitars dreamier vocal stylings, including bassist Emile Mosseri employing a falsetto more frequently. Despite the name that seems to suggest a theme of togetherness, it’s really a six-track tour de force of loneliness. EP standout ‘Tired Hearts’, with Mark Demiglio’s understated drumming and an emotional guitar line, was a clear standout of the night; despite the modesty of the track on record, you could feel the electricity of it live. The relative darkness of their set – they turned out all the lights in a room except for a few they themselves had brought and set up on stage – seemed to be sympathetic to the vibes of the EP, but it made for impossible photo shooting conditions, so apologies, I don’t have any good photos of them from the night.

2012 album ‘Midnight Flowers’ is a much more raucous affair and includes hard-rocking gems. ‘Black Water’ is one of these, and having not seem the Dig since August 2013 (then opening for Little Comets at the Hamilton), I was surprised to see some of their underage fans grinding along to it (err, okay…) The bass thudder that is ‘I Already Forgot Everything You Said’ was another clear fan favourite of the night, with the girl in front of me squealing to her best friend that this was her favourite song by them. Yes. Squealing. And screaming. With fans like these, I just don’t understand why the Dig aren’t more popular. ::tap tap:: Hey, BBC! Are you listening? These guys are ready for their shot at the big time.

After emphatic yelling for “one more song!” from the audience, the band returned for an encore. I’m usually not a big fan of covers, but the Dig outdid themselves with a brilliant version of The Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’. They followed that up with the frenetically driving ‘Hole in My Heart’. It may have the emotion-tugging chorus “there’s a hole in my heart, she says it’s a friend / but I know in my heart she’s gonna do it again”, yet the tune is just so fun, you can’t help but shake a tail feather, it’s that catchy. And it marked the perfect end to a first-class live show. Excellent work, guys. If you happen to live in the New York City area, you have a chance to see the band one last time in 2014, playing the Pancakes and Whiskey holiday party on the 19th of December at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade shop.

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