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2:54 at the Triple Rock

19 Jun

By Allegra Oxborough

There wasn’t a lot of smiling at The Triple Rock last night, not on the faces of a couple dozen wallflowers during Plastic Believers‘ set and certainly not on stage. Sahil and Kelly Merchant took station at their respective computer and controller modules, like a couple of serious space pilots queasy over the impending mission. They made very little movement, did very little to create heat on stage, and began a stiff set with a moody sort of call and repeat song. They had reason to be uncomfortable.

Five hours earlier, 7th Street Entry booker Eli Flasher e-mailed the Merchants offering a last minute gig to replace a band who had had, according to First Avenue’s facebook page, “transportation issues.” The duo hadn’t practiced in a month (one sixth of their band life) and they played for what they presumed to be a disappointed audience.

Before Plastic Believers began their second song, Sahil said matter of factly, “Their van broke down or something. So you’re gonna have to make do with us.” Like a dad to a room freckled with pouting kids, saying tonight we’re having freezer icees instead of Dairy Queen sundaes, and that’s the way it is.

The scheduled opener, Widowspeak, did have a van break down, and they fixed it somewhere in Indiana. Around 5PM frontwoman Molly Hamilton texted, “Soo…we are missing the show.” She projected an 11PM arrival, which would have been good enough to catch the tail end of 2:54 but ended up being about the time she and her bandmates crossed over the border from Wisconsin.

As Plastic Believers faced their private storm, Kelly’s high, sometmes shallow, voice played repetitive part-melodies over a range of noise-heavy, clubby beats. Some of the tunes belonged in an 80’s film score, others felt more like Madonna circa Ray of Light, but without the seamless builds and transitions of a polished pop piece. Like a new DJ still learning to beat-match, that roughness might be smoothed with practice and confidence. We needed to see the performers having fun, to see the couple make steamy eyes at each other and at us. Instead we reflected their discomfort.

2:54 is a relatively new band too, but the stoic faces of the headliners read nothing but assuredness. Sister guitarists Colette Thurlow (the bands’ frontwoman) and Hannah Thurlow are joined by Alex Robins on drums and Joel Porter on bass to form a band reminiscent of the raw, heavy bareness of the XX‘s and the White Stripes but with a sound more atmospheric, dirtier. Colette’s vocals moved like waves, dipping and building in crescendos and once in a while kicking up to a near-scream for an instant. She raised her arms in a sort of rapper’s swagger and tossed her hair, pulsing with the heavy bass and kick drum that drove most of the songs.

There was very little banter, the band was focused, cohesive, and polished as hell. A crowd had swarmed loosely in front of the stage and audience members started to sway freely, reacting strongly (for this crowd) with little hoots at the introductory guitar line to the group’s breakout single “On a Wire.”

Then, nine songs in and without warning (and to end this piece in the same way) the show finished abruptly.

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