Forgive me for making a comparison that nobody wants to see, but the performances this evening in the cozy (i.e., unbearably hot and crowded) studio space in Webster Hall forced visions of Rush into my mind. From the female singer/bassist/keyboardist of Brooklyn’s The Big Sleep, who somehow resembles Geddy Lee (in a feminine, cute way of course), to the Neil Pertish precision drumming of Maps & Atlases’ Chris Hainey, I was transported back to what an evening might have resembled in a crowded little bar in 1976 on Rush’s Caress of Steel tour. Since Brandon Spektor of CMJ Music already provided a nice review of this very concert and the same bill will roll through SLC sometime in mid-June, I have hesitated to post anything about this show. However, the strength of the performances from The Big Sleep and Maps & Atlases compels me to give a shout out to both stylistically unusual bands.

The Big Sleep

It wasn’t until the second to last song in the set, “Four Wishes,” that I realized how much I had enjoyed The Big Sleep’s performance. Most of the tunes on their play list revealed the band’s reliance on the sounds of contemporary Brooklyn-style indie rock – heavy on layers of synthesized sounds and guitar riffs. The production style of their interesting new album, Nature Experiments, reminds me a lot of Deluka’s You Are the Night disc from the end of 2010. However, somewhere in the midst of “Four Wishes”– which they aired out considerably past its studio version length – Danny Barria’s ultra-heavy guitar riffing and Sonya Balchandani’s driving bass revealed some hard rock predispositions reminiscent of bands like Chevelle – I loved it and think they should build on that vibe in the future (having listened to their older stuff on YouTube the heavier sound is apparently where their roots lie). Anyway, Balachandani (of South Asian descent) is definitely leading the pack of my 2012 top ten Brainy Asian Chicks list, and I believe The Big Sleep is just a couple of band members and octaves away from becoming a chief among the hundreds of Brooklyn-based indies.

Maps and Atlases

In spite of the densely massed crowd, Maps and Atlases played loose and confident, and were happy to comply with the various requested songs from past album and EPs hollered out by over enthusiastic (and over liquefied) audience members. The occasional glances and gestures directed to his band mates suggested that Dave Davison was ready and willing to accommodate the fans and amend the set list. This gave me a chance to catch up with Maps & Atlases’ repertoire with which I was largely unfamiliar (my residence underneath a rock in Central Park has caused me to miss a lot of cool stuff). Some of that stuff (much of it performed apparently on the fly) included “Everyplace is a House,” “Living Decorations,” “Songs for Ghosts to Haunt to,” “Will,” and “The Charm.” The execution of these tunes gave me a live exemplar of the intriguing phenomenon that is math rock, but favorite moments for me in the show arose deep into the set when the band played “Winter” and “Remote & Dark Years” from the new disc Beware and Be Grateful.

Maps and Atlases must be the greatest name ever for a math rock band, because the two terms suggest the attention to detail that the genre typically implies and this band expresses in their music. Most of the songs they performed relied on precise plans without room for solos or jamming often crashing to abrupt closure, while Haines tended to repeat a set of complex beats (and variation on those beats) on his drum kit, very rarely riding the cymbals. Returning to my absurd Rush reference, the care with which Maps and Atlases applies to their song craftsmanship and live performance evokes visions of performances I’ve seen from Rush’s old prog catalog with songs like “Xanadu” and “The Trees” minus Alex Lifeson’s guitar soloing, of course. Who knows, had they changed into polyester pants and white puffy shirts and brought Balachandani on stage to sing and play bass, I might have quickly guzzled a few gin and tonics and blurted out desperate requests for “Fly by Night” and “2112.”

Nathan Jones

Nate Jones is middle-aged, rapidly balding man with chronic bad breath who writes about culture, identity politics, and sometimes music. His published work includes pieces in Ready Player None: A Ready Player One Fanzine, Old White Dudes’ Quarterly, various want ads seeking vintage Atari 2600 cartridges, and his blog entitled “My Heaven is 1973.”