O’Brother/Junius/Black Clouds at DC9

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Monday, February 20, 2012

As spring approaches, a never ending wave of concerts approaches the Washington D.C. and Baltimore areas. This year things have started a little earlier than usual, as a number of noteworthy tours have already come through and brought people out. One of the more recent tours was O’Brother and Junius’ co-headlining tour which will be making its way across the country over the next few weeks. The Washington D.C. date was the first stop of the tour, so I made my way out to DC9 to experience what both groups had to offer.

There was one local opener for this performance, the instrumental band Black Clouds. Their Facebook page says that the group is relatively new and has only been around since last year, but you wouldn’t know it based on the strengths of their arrangements. It would be easy to simply categorize Black Clouds as a new post rock band, considering that they utilize the same build-ups of melodic riffs into soaring atmospheric arrangements but the difference here is that there is an emphasis on electronics. Rather than letting the guitar and drums be solely responsible for filling the room with sound, Black Clouds adds a prominent electronic element into their soundscapes which makes them have a different sound from some of the other projects out there. These guys also don’t spend the majority of their songs utilizing soft build-ups, as they start off fairly loud and keep upping the volume until the compositions reach their climax and all of the instrumentation is soaring over you. Black Clouds already seems to be finding a sound of their own that takes a post rock base and adds a variety of other influences to it, and they were an enjoyable first act. If you’re interested in recorded output the band only has one song available for streaming with more in the works, but they’ll be playing some more live performances in the near future.

Junius has been around since 2003, but the Boston based group has been gaining a lot of exposure over the past three to four years. This is mainly due to the release of their first two full length records, 2009’s The Martyrdom of a Catastrophist and 2011’s Reports from the Threshold of Death. Junius’ sound has never been easy to categorize, as the band’s compositions often have some of the heavier aspects of a hard rock or alternative metal act while also featuring textured melodies and samples that are closer to space rock and progressive rock. I was curious as to how their newer material would transfer over to a live setting due to how sample heavy many of the songs were, but as soon as they started to play it was clear this would not be an issue. When they perform, the members of Junius get the venue to turn the lights down and plug in their own set of lights at the back of the stage. They turn these lights on to completely illuminate themselves during the louder parts of their songs and remain shrouded in darkness during the softer sections. Although this might seem like a small detail, I felt that it really added to the overall mood of the performance. The soaring melodies that sound great on the records are even more powerful in person as they wash over your entire body and draw you even further into the material, and as it turns out the band still uses all of the additional samples and instrumentation via recordings. Singer Joseph Martinez was initially a little hard to hear over the wall of sound but after the first song the levels had been adjusted so that wasn’t an issue. This is certainly a good thing, as Martinez has an incredible voice that starts off fairly mellow and then takes off along with the instrumentals to hit some higher pitches. It was an impressive set and the band surely won over some new fans that night, and here’s hoping they can have the same effect on concertgoers in other cities.

I must admit that while I had seen the name thrown around on various websites and forums, O’Brother wasn’t a band that I had much experience with. But as experiencing new musical acts both in a headlining and opening capacity is one of the most fun parts of being a reviewer, I was ready to see what they had to offer. It was immediately clear that this is a group that experiments with a wide variety of different styles, as they began with a louder song that combined elements of southern rock and post hardcore with a dash of indie rock. From there the instrumentalists were always doing something different, and I don’t think I have seen a group use this many different instruments during the course of their set in quite some time. Guitars and basses were constantly being switched out to provide new sounds, and it never seemed as though O’Brother was playing the same thing twice. The louder moments from their opening track would occasionally return in the form of very groove heavy riffs, while other times they would slow things down and channel some ambient/drone influences before building up to a breathtaking climax. During all of this lead singer Tanner Merritt was utilizing a wide variety of singing styles, ranging from an almost falsetto clean pitch to all out screaming that wouldn’t seem out of place on a post hardcore album. While some of the members provided backing vocals, my attention was often squarely on Merritt as it was really interesting to watch him and see where his voice would go next. I am not 100% sure of the set list that was performed on this tour, but based on what I have listened to online after the show it seems as though the majority of the set was dedicated to the group’s full length Garden Window with a few older songs thrown in for established fans. Going into the show I thought Junius might overshadow O’Brother, but it was clear that both bands have incredible stage presences and are well suited to each other. Don’t miss out on this co-headlining tour if it comes your way, as musicians with this level of skill and songwriting talent deserve the support.

Links:

Black Clouds- http://www.facebook.com/pages/Black-Clouds/299404576740418
Junius- http://juniusmusic.com/
O’Brother- http://www.beneathyourgardenwindow.com/

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