Show Review: GOSPEL MUSIC @ Caledonia Lounge in Athens

Indie rock was alive and well in Athens, GA Saturday night. Openers Grape Soda wowed the Caledonia crowd with their array of fuzzy keyboard driven pop songs, and newcomers Grass Giraffes knocked the crowd around some. Following the Athens locals was Gospel Music, the Jacksonville bounce-pop outfit that could be considered the very nectar of all things indie. Everything started to sway and to get a little happy as soon as they raised their pre-show shots on the stage (disclaimer: I was sober), and I knew it was about to get hip up in there.

Gospel Music writes snappy ditties, most under the three-minute mark, the kind that usually reference the song title within the first few lines. Instrumentation is fairly straightforward for an indie band from the Sunshine State, but I got a little intrigued when I noticed the multi-instrumentalist boxed in by two throwback synths. When it came time to play these bad boys, I struggled to hear them cut through the system, especially when the drums overpowered just about everything onstage. I could discern melodies, sure, but because of the rush to get bands on and off stage (the great dilemma of all things live), the sound suffered as soon as they kicked into their opener.

The set flew by quickly. Lead singer Owen Holmes usually announced a song title, and bam – they were hitting the downbeat. I couldn’t help but wonder how many shots preceded the one taken on stage. Holmes and company swayed about like any old indie pop derivative (here’s looking at you, Real Estate), yet that sway became a lean then almost a fall-down. Gospel Music is able to trick the audience with their sloppy songs because they are tight live, but Holmes’ leaning on that multi-instrumentalist combined with such loopy songwriting made me feel as if the whole damn room was spinning.

I found out later this show was the last on their tour, and kudos to them for surviving a string of dates. But I felt that “last show on tour” vibe the entire time. They acknowledged the audience with rehearsed banter, ran through their songs with haste and were generally off-putting, especially with all the tossing of instruments into the sparse crowd. At one point, a vibraslap (also known as the most hated percussion instrument next to the flexitone) was thrown at the crowd, and it smacked the ground with an awful sound.

Holmes’ vocal delivery also seemed lethargic. His natural style is somewhat lazy and half-hearted, and I reckon that mumbling, low register talk-singing appeals to indie sweethearts galore. However, his vocal fry was hot Saturday night to the point of agitation.

As much as I didn’t want to acknowledge it, I felt like everything was a-ok with the world while listening to Gospel Music, and that’s honestly what these guy/girl-led indie startups are all about. The set was a bit too Moldy Peaches for me, but the freely arranged yet oddly tight instrumentation and benign subject matter is endearing for any up-and-coming band.

** You can see some photos from the show at UGA’s Red & Black student newspaper web site **