Last Night: Happy Birthday, Residual Echoes and Fungi Girls at The Nightmare

Happy Birthday, Residual Echoes, Fungi Girls
The Nightmare
August 5, 2010

Better than:
giving in to the heat and staying at home in your air conditioning.

happy-birthday.jpg
Happy Birthday
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No one, it seemed, was in a rush for things to get started last night at The Nightmare, where a powerful triple-bill of the Sub Pop-signed Happy Birthday, Los Angeles' Residual Echoes and Cleburne's own Fungi Girls drew a small but dedicated crowd out for their performances.

On some levels, that was to be expected: Each of the three bands on the bill revels in a lo-fi slacker sound. So of course no one seemed to mind that things were running almost an hour late.

But there was a reason for the delay: Turns out the frontman for the opening crew of 17-year-olds from Cleburne had forgot his guitar at home.

Whoops.

Some 40 minutes after the night's music was set to start, the guitar arrived. And Fungi Girls refused to allow things to further stall: The band ran on stage, cranked out a minute-long soundcheck, and immediately launched into its set. Given the circumstances, one would've expected a sloppy set from the trio. But the band, having just returned from an eight-day tour to the west coast, seemed unfazed. Credit drummer Skyler Salinas for that much; his incessant, rapid time-keeping marveled, providing the backbone for the band's lo-fi surf-rock sound. And though, at times, his bandmates couldn't keep up, it added to the charm of the band's devil-may-care aesthetic. And, after a quick five songs, the band's impressively catchy, bouncy set came to its close, setting the stage--and pace--nicely for the evening.

Next up: Residual Echoes, with its three-piece, metal-influenced scuzz. Melodic and, at times, surprising harsh, the band's set, like Fungi Girls' before it, wouldn't win an award for length. But it, too, impressed--especially the bass player, who thrashed about the stage like he was playing in a band that elicited 20 times the volume of the actual outfit. It made for a fine visual, sure. But, between Fungi Girls and the headliners, this was a 30-minute set set bound to be lost in the shuffle.

Because, if Fungi Girls impressed, then Happy Birthday awed. Only offering up some 40 minutes of material (if that much) and culling almost entirely from its spring-released self-titled debut (aside from one new song the band offered), the Vermont-based trio provided the audiences with a surprisingly clean sound. Or, maybe, it wasn't that surprising at all: The band's recorded material, like all of the acts on this bill, revels in the lo-fi end of the spectrum, which allows for mistakes under the guise of character. But low fidelity hardly means low ambition: Happy Birthday's songs cull from a number of influences--grunge, '90s alt, modern-day pop-punk--and meld those cues into enjoyable takes that, unlike the earlier performers' material, varied in pace from balladry to all-out rock-out.

It was on the bands' most recognizable songs (and surprisingly big blog hits), "Girls FM" and the set-ending "Subliminal Message" where the band truly shined. The latter was an on-point, direct-from-the-record offering of one of the best recorded efforts we've yet heard in 2010. The former, meanwhile, saw the band having some real fun. Given that "Girls FM" was the band's first single, and one that was immediately embraced by both the print and blog communities, the song, clearly, is no longer even given a second thought by the band--at least in its original incarnation. The live version saw frontman Kyle Thomas showing off his jaw-dropping guitar-playing chops, bringing added muscle to the mix--as well as extra time changes and flares. But, most impressive, as Thomas flashed those parts, he did so with inspiring ease, coyly making eyes and batting his lashes at his small, but dedicated, audience.

Just two hours after the show had started, the whole thing was over. A quick night? Sure. But it's not the size of the performance. It's how you use it.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I've gone on the record before about how much I enjoy Happy Birthday's debut. And, though I wanted to catch them at SXSW, I just couldn't make it work among all that hectic planning. So, yeah, I was going into this show with a great deal of anticipation and excitement. Kyle Thomas and Co. hardly disappointed. Neither did Fungi Girls, whose music I very much enjoy, but had never had the chance to see before. Great, promising stuff from these teenagers, who, as we've said in this space before, are well worth keeping an eye upon.

By The Way: Perhaps the most impressive performance of the night came from Residual Echoes' drummer, who doubled duty as Happy Birthday's bassist after his band's set came to a close. That kind of effort on a hot night like last night? Deserves some sort of medal, I think.

Random Note: Need a tip for beating the summer heat? OK: When ordering a beer to cool down, order a bottle instead of a draft. The bottle stays cooler in your hand longer.

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