with Little Bobby Taylors
The Star Bar, Atlanta • April 28, 1999
I was intrigued by the idea of this show. The Star Bar is best known for their Elvis Vault, nickel jukebox, and annual Bubbapalooza, whereas Atlanta’s Underwater are a long-time fixture on the southeast trance scene. Wondering if the mixture would be like oil and water or oil and vinegar, I thought I’d give it a shot.
First up were the Little Bobby Taylors, a versatile band whose looks deceive. Though dressed the part of yer typical Americana indie band, they’re not the usual Star Bar country punk; they cover a pretty wide ground somewhere between the Band and Julee Cruse. When guitarist/songwriter Faith Kleppinger sings, the music goes all dark and throaty. At other times, it takes off or grooves out. Percussionist (with a capital “P”) Jon Hill is a multi-talented one-man horn section, jumping on the harmonica, tambourine, trumpet and probably anything else to ensure this band’s sound is anything but little.
During the set, Faith announced that they couldn’t wait for Underwater because, “they’re dreamy… and we’re nightmarish.” I disagree — the Little Bobby Taylors are just as dreamy, but it’s just a different kind of dream.
Grown from the core of ex-Floridians Rosewater Elizabeth (songwriter Jeremy Wilkins and vocalist Melissa Mileski), Underwater also includes live drummer Alec Irvin and programmer/keyboardist Matthew Jeanes. Their latest CD, I Could Lose , has just been released on Risk Records. Recorded in L.A. with Chris Vrenna (Nine Inch Nails, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins) producing, this is not a heavy or “industrial” record, but it’s not sterile electronica, either. It’s stark and spacey, like the soundtrack to a sadly dark film set 50 or 60 years in the future. In fact, if there were any justice in the world, “sub:space” might have been on the soundtrack to Titanic instead of that Celine Dion crap.
While the bands were changing the stage, the trenchcoat crowd appeared, and the room filled up pretty well for a weeknight. Underwater’s set began with a slowly-building wave of sound and white noise. Also starting gradually, soon Mileski’s powerful and lovely voice soared to float above the rising music. Without her, many of the songs would qualify as “background music” a la Brian Eno, but with her they command attention. Tendons and muscles stood out from her neck, in case you didn’t notice how much she was putting into the performance.
The samples, programming and live performance all blended well to play off of each other, reflecting the closeness of the band members. During “Red,” Mileski sang over a sampled background of her own voice, adding to the richly layered live sound. All the songs came off well (except for one sampler mishap, throwing a machine-gun drumbeat in the middle of an otherwise quiet song), even within the Elvis-tinged walls of the Star Bar.
Underwater has described themselves as an “electronic pop band” — I’d say it’s closer to an ethereal experimental trippy floaty dreamy trance art pop sound, with feeling. If you don’t know what that means, then go see them for yourself.