Dark Little Rooms, Edison Woods, the Ones and Zeros, and Order of the Dying Orchid at Tokyo Rose

Booking four bands for a single night’s show can be problematic. Good luck finding four bands who belong in the same space in the same night, good luck divvying up appropriate amount of time to four bands, and good luck finding paying customers willing to sit through four bands playing varying types of music for varying amounts of time.
Since a surplus of music that doesn’t sound like the other music doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have a large audience (it was quite crowded), or good music (three out of four), it wasn’t an entirely bum scene at the Rose. A boisterous crowd turned out, mostly for the Ones and Zeros, who use a laptop computer, sorta, and whose members may one day design your house.
If the night felt more like a basement party than a concert, it had everything to do with this band, composed of students at UVA’s architecture school– among them The Hook’s own James Graham on drums– who drew the bulk of the audience. Coming on in the third, prized slot (nabbing the fashionably late before they leave fashionably early, along with the home field advantage), the Ones and Zeros had it all over the other acts, playing to the largest, liveliest audience.
Whether they deserved it on musical merits was beside the point. Their set was very let’s-watch-our-friends-play-in-a-band: songs were dedicated to people everyone knew, in-jokes were dropped, and people shouted their love to and strutted their stuff for their fave members.
Going on first is never an enviable position– chances are you find yourself, like Richmond’s Dark Little Rooms, playing in front of the other bands, and a handful of people getting their drink on early with their ears turned off. If these people’s friends come down halfway through your set and get their drink on, and people start talking, loudly– which is what happened– well, it’s uncomfortable to watch and, judging by the band’s expressions, even more uncomfortable to play to.
And that’s entirely too bad. Watching people not watching a band play some of the most polished music the Rose has heard in a while, you realized things were all wrong. The band’s singer sat behind a Rhodes piano and a keyboard, setting off sinister blooms of shiny, hollow chords. The drummer didn’t lay a foundation, he decorated, with cymbal taps like rain on a tin roof all busy and quiet. The guitarist colored between the lines with repeating, meandering two- and three-note patterns.
The strangest thing was hearing a singer actually sing– not scream, not shout, not sing-speak– at the Rose. With his quavering, clear, sad baritone, the whole thing sounded like Mark Eitzel fronting latter-day Radiohead in an urban dive bar. Judicious uses of distortion and lots of empty space to contemplate a vague but powerful sense of things gone wrong crafted a crystal clear sense of confusion. It was spiffy and dark. But no one cared.
By the time Brooklyn’s Edison Woods took the stage– all six of them– the audience had bulked up to unusual (for the Rose) numbers, and even greater shouting, laughing, and beer glass-toppling volume. This for a band who advertise themselves as the quietest in New York, who include a cellist and a violinist, and who perform while sitting. Sound difficulties, carrying over from Dark Little Rooms’ set, meant large gaps of silence punctuated long, quiet, pastoral numbers.
Though they bore a slight resemblance to so-called slo-core bands like Low, known for glacial rhythms, spare accompaniment, and spine-shivering male/female harmonies, Edison Woods mostly lacked that sort of specificity. Dynamics were absent. Fragile lead female vocals barely escaped the singer’s lips, a gambit that might work on lonely, late-night bedroom stereos, but not here. It was fragile and slight, music that demanded concentration and attention, two items in short supply.
That didn’t stop them from playing an overly long set. After the Ones and Zeros finished theirs, most folks in the audience were finished as well. As Harrisonburg’s Order of the Dying Orchid set up, the bar was being shutdown, and the clock had already struck 2am. A handful of people remained and witnessed the six-piece’s twin guitar maelstrom, ridden by a foppish epileptic of a frontman who looked all of six-foot-four and 150 pounds.
Ejecting declaratory bursts that didn’t have much to do with melody or harmony, he shared the fury with what sounded like an organized (barely) 10-car pileup. In these hands, guitars were noisemakers, firecrackers, forks to stick in electric sockets. The feedback that nagged Edison Woods got let loose with a blind purpose. Sound buckled and leapt, the band doubled over and crawled and shook, and there wasn’t much difference between the two forces.
And then, after what couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes, they stopped. They pleaded (well, argued) the lateness of the hour: “We’d like to thank the first two bands, who played a total of two and a half hours of music,” growled one guitarist.
Then, a group of obnoxious, suburban b-boys who’d been front and center since Edison Woods’ set, started calling them euphemisms for female body parts and gay men.
Then, a burly white dude in camouflage pants and a bandana took the stage, and started beat-boxing, claiming he’d just played a set at the Outback Lodge. Then he threatened a pair of indie kids who looked five years removed from their high school a.v. club.
As I left, I heard one of them rapping, over really bad beat-boxing, “I love Fruity Pebbles in a major way.” Things fell apart pretty quickly. If they had ever been that together.