November 17, 2004

The electric mandolin may be high-pitched, but that doesn't necessarily make it sound happy. Local rock quartet Madrona proved that Wednesday night at Twiropa. Their moody, disjunctive music owed its attitude to punk and its structure to jazz. The band started their set with the punkiest, most accessible songs of the night. Vocalist/guitarist Matt McGarvey strummed feverishly to produce a cold, militant surge, while vocalist/mandolin player Nathanael Sprague countered his melody well with a lead progression that was more prominent in the sound mix. The mandolin had a crisp, pleasant tone, but Sprague did a great job of making his playing complement the dark, broken feeling of the songs.

It was no surprise drummer Kyle Sharamitaro and bassist/vocalist Greg Smith were trained jazz musicians. The meticulous, intelligent, stop and go, multi-time signatured structure of the songs screamed jazz. Still, you won't normally find Smith's enjoyable ominous bass lines in jazz. It was a pleasure to hear Sharamitaro change beats within the same rhythm. I love when drummers do that.

McGarvey was the lead vocalist. He sang lyrics in a depressed speak-sing approach similar to the delivery of Rotary Downs frontman James Marler. He occassionally got a scream out about killing, but lyrical subjects also dealt with Robert McNamara, George W. Bush, and dogs. It'd be safe to say the band's overall approach was schizophrenic, but I was even surprised when they started cheering "Oi, Oi!" out of nowhere.

The band wore suits, and this underscored their formal approach to a live show. They didn't move around or show too much emotion. Just sorta stood there and did their thing. They probably could have gotten the uptight college crowd into the show more if they threw their bodies around during the punkier parts. God knows nobody could dance to the other parts. Maybe only Elaine from Seinfeld. That's probably why there was a significant space between the band and the audience on the floor. No one wanted to look weird trying to react to the music's change in time.

The music was good, but I never totally got into it. Probably because neither the audience nor the band wanted to commit. And the set actually went on a little long. After an hour of their moody music, it changes to plain spooky.

Over 100 people showed up, and even though they didn't give the band much energy, they applauded like crazy.

So, it was good music but not really a good show. I look forward to seeing the band in front of a different audience.

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