Thursday, March 28, 2024

Origami Angel at Empire Live in Albany NY (w/Equipment and Magazine Beach) Show review

Admittedly I was pretty excited to go see Origami Angel last night. Two weeks ago I dialed my car's radio signal to WRPI Troy 91.5 on a drive home from work. The DJ was amidst an easy-core playlist and I liked what I heard. I stayed tuned until he name-checked "Gami" (as they call themselves) and let his audience know of his own personal excitement for their upcoming concert in Albany. I had never heard of them or listened to any of their music before.

That same day I found a full album stream of "Somewhere City" on YouTube and discovered how it is one of the best emo albums ever made. For the two weeks leading up to their concert I listened to it on repeat and also familiarized myself with their 20-song follow-up album "Gami Gang."

As the night of the concert approached I mentioned to my band-mate from 20 years ago I was going to see an emo band. We're both in our mid-30s at this point. He told me the last time he went to a concert he "felt old." I hadn't seen live music since my trip to Nashville back in 2020 but after playing in different bands and frequenting local music shows for years I'm usually "big chilling" as they say, when it comes to a live music show at least.

I have a strange knack for being able to predict the future and I knew I'd run into the lead singer of this band before the show somehow. Still, I forgot to give him a copy of my CD because I left it at home that morning by accident. As I walked randomly down the sidewalk in Downtown Albany I was by myself and I saw this guy walking towards me. It was just him and me walking past one another on a giant empty sidewalk. This guy looks like Captain Jack Sparrow meets the guy from the Pringles can. I could tell it was him immediately. Having spent the last decade in customer service interaction type of work I have developed the ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, without hesitation. When I recognized it was him, I immediately called him out right there on the street.

"Hey you're that guy!! The guitarist of the band Origami Angel," I said enthusiastically.
"Yeah," he nodded and smiled and attempted to keep it moving at all costs, but I wasn't done.
"I heard about your band on the radio last week. That's how I found out about you," I said in an attempt to start a conversation to kind of test out how willing this guy was to talk. Turns out he really wasn't.    
"That's sick!!!" he said with a big smile as he looked at me and walked away briskly back towards the venue giving zero fucks about what else I might have to say.

It could have gone much, much worse but I held this interaction in my back pocket as I entered the venue and assessed the scene. Empire Live is a fairly new establishment and the show took place in Empire Underground which is a basement venue down around the corner from the main event space.
Strangely I felt I had spent time at this place before, though I can't definitively say I had until last night. I seem to think I've had a dream that took place at this venue. I can't remember exactly what happened inside the dream, as it occurred a while ago.

As I got to the front door I looked at a giant bouncer and waited for him to say something. He exploded with, "ID" and might as well have added in a "Muthafuckahh!!" for good measure. Of course being the complete savage that I am, I could care less and obliged him. 
The guy checking tickets five feet further into the venue was also a tough guy. As I informed him I was about to show him my ticket, he hit me with big "Duh" energy, though it was totally unwarranted as I wasn't lost at what to do whatsoever. Again he didn't realize who he was dealing with. I tried to calm him down with some small talk and let him know the door price of $30 was quite high considering this was essentially a glorified DIY show. He agreed it was too high and lightened up a bit. He wasn't so bad after all. He was really a big teddy bear.

Once inside the venue I started to realize what my former band-mate meant when he said he felt old. Before I get into that, some details on the environment.

The venue itself is just a giant square box inside a concrete basement. All the walls and the ceiling and floor are painted black. There's a small bar, restrooms and a merch section. It's very bare bones. There aren't even custom light fixtures or LED screens anywhere. There is absolutely zero character to the place.
There were about 150-200 people there already when I arrived 45 minutes after the doors opened. For the record, once "Gami" hit the stage I estimate the crowd at around 350 to 500 people. So if we land on 400 at 30 bucks a head that's a whopping 12 Grand in ticket sales. What percentage did the bands take home? I think 50% is the standard, so that leaves the three bands with 6 grand to split up. They probably paid a percentage out to their booking company, so let's say 5k is left. If I Was in "Gami" I'd say every other band is getting transportation and food allowance but no further. 90 bucks a head times the ten other musicians that's about a grand down. So the two "Gami" guys are splitting 4-grand between themselves and their engineer. That's about $1500 each. So if the tour is 30 dates they'll take home about 30k after taxes. More than minimum wage but not by much. Add in merch and they could be hitting a way higher number. Surely not lucrative but miles beyond what most bands will ever attain. But enough about the money breakdown...

As I looked around I noticed almost everyone was in their early twenties or perhaps late teens. Instantly I felt like an imposter. An old guy trying to disguise himself as a hip young kid. I started to sweat underneath the thick cotton fabric of my Thinsulate beanie (I wear it for personal warmth reasons). I resigned myself to a back corner where no one could see me as I stood there, partially embarrassed as I came to terms with my decision to attend this event. 
Ten years makes a whopping difference in your perspective and I found myself thinking about how my at-home rock-star fantasies are often misguided, in a sense. Almost stupid, really. But, somewhere in the past, I realized I needed to pick one singular hobby and I just chose music. It is what it is. 
As I imagined myself on stage playing my own songs I figured it would be an entirely different sort of thing, I guess. For one my arthritis would limit me from moving around very much. My songs are also composed differently, I have to wonder... through live instruments and a PA in front of a crowd it would be a whole different type of ball-game. Anyway, even if I still wanted to be a rock-star, I've aged out of touring, that's for sure. My body would break down within days. I guess I've lived my fantasy enough as you can read in my old posts from over a decade ago, but the truth is, as far as I got and the amount of years I put in... It's not even close to enough. It never is. So instead I just listen to music at home and write X-treme blog posts and review music constantly to fill that void, I guess. I still write music too, but I haven't written much in years. 
I must say, the transition to becoming more of a fan than an artist/participant is interesting. I never thought I'd care about what type of cocoa butter Mike Portnoy used on his elbows back in 1985 that is no longer available through any websites other than eBay, but now I'm sort of that guy. Back to the show, though.

Despite feeling awkward for being older than almost everyone there I think a lot of it had to do with the fact it was an emo show and I'm decidedly too old for the genre (I used to be involved in a local DIY scene during the end of what I'm calling the first wave which would be like 1998-2006), and have been since inactive since it went out of vogue back in 2009 or so. It's funny how something goes from cool to uncool and back again. At the time when it becomes uncool it almost seems like it will NEVER make a comeback, but then, it does. Everything goes in waves. 
Within five minutes or so, I found a standing place directly in front of the sound board on a small plastic mat alongside three other concert goers. Luckily the three people I watched the entire show with were friendly and chill. I had a decent view but despite being 6'2 I still couldn't really see that well. At one point a girl stood in front of me and filmed on her iPhone which directly blocked my view. But I wasn't annoyed or anything. It didn't matter that much to me.

The opening bands were what you'd expect. I guess the second opener was sort of like a less-melodic Armor for Sleep but with a heavier, clanky edge to them. They had a bit of a dark sound, I thought, for emo. Some of the songs were put together like the more complex Jimmy Eat World stuff too. Just for kicks, I'd compare some Equipment songs to one of the closing tracks off the Jimmy Eat World album "Chase This Light," I think it's called "Dizzy."
None of the bands that played, including "Gami" had much of an image which I found disconcerting in a sense. They all seem to be wearing like sweatpants a hoodie and a t-shirt. There wasn't enough effort in the clothing if you ask me. If you're in an emo band you must have jet black bangs skinny jeans and a sweater or small T-shirt on. One guy had black fingernail paint. Not enough. Then again, I've always found the glam iteration of various genres more interesting than whatever this was. I guess soft rock is a different thing. I found some of the trends and what was deemed acceptable or cool as not in-line with what it was for me, at that age. But things change and it's really all about the music, at the end of the day. Certain trends become more accessible and also more accepted. Seems like a lot of girls have septum rings now whereas back in 2004 it was less popular. I didn't see anyone with ridiculous emo hair, or any flagrant mall goth people. I guess those trends died out a long time ago. The style of the concert-goers seemed to be kinda watered down. I've noticed a lot of like 90s nostalgia grunge style is way back in style and remains popular. No one was in crunk-core attire or anything.

One negative aspect of this show was the fact I couldn't hear anything because whoever was running the boards was just putting the bass frequency knobs for every single channel all at probably 50 to 60/100. It wasn't working for me at all. It was all just muddy and washed out tones. I couldn't even differentiate the various instruments. The vocals were coming through really clear but everything else was just random bass frequencies which was disappointing considering the high ticket cost.

I'm not too bothered when the kick drum at a live show really thwacks (unless it's way over the top) but that same EQ was applied to every single instrument so the snare drum was also extremely thick, rich and warm but the problem is that when every single piece of the mix is fully warm like that... it washes out the overall sound. It's kind of like EQ 101, but whoever was running the board was dead set on applying this sound to every band. No idea why. In fact, "Gami" had their own sound engineer and halfway through their set the in-house guy manned a different soundboard (Why? I'll never know) and seem to again push his agenda of bass-boosting everything to hell. He kind of sabotaged gummy. It kind of sucked because beforehand their own engineer had stuff more correctly dialed in.

Speaking of him let's discuss what actually went down and how a two-piece sounds so full. From what I could tell their engineer had a direct mic to both guys wearing an in-ear he was also tap-tempo aligning pre-determined audio that would play along to them at various sequences of songs exactly like a DJ. The bits are queued up and then he'd hit "Go!" at the proper time and it would play on beat, as per the tap-tempo he had established. Not too complicated. Instead of a bass player the guitarist has some setup where his guitar outputs the lowest 2-3 strings into a wired device between the pickups and the output jack that down-tunes the signal to a bass-guitar-octaved pitch. This signal change is also outputted separately (there are two output jacks on his guitar?) into a separate bass amp. If you really want to nerd out, you could speculate the bass amp is faced at a 90 degree angle from the guitar amp to avoid feedback. Or perhaps it has to do with providing his drummer with some monitoring. Sort of like a simulator for a rhythm section as well as a way to fatten up the live sound.
Overall, this guitar setup sounded kind of bad to me. Kinda wonky. There was some crazy feedback at some point because of the guitar behaving oddly, but instead of the invigorating, hair-raising excellence that guitar feedback can be... it was more of a frumpy, dissonant fart tone that just petered out randomly, while of course sounding ever-so-lush through the expensive PA at the venue.

So, really, it was hard to come to much of a conclusion on the sound of Origami Angel because the mix wasn't good. For instance the bassist of the second band was using a pick and I could clearly see what she was picking but I heard almost no bass notes. I just heard a washed out bass frequency overall coming from every single instrument on stage. It wasn't good. Whoever is running the boards at Empire Underground needs to roll down the bass frequency on about 50 to 60% of the mix so the audience can actually hear the guitars. There's got to be more separation between the instruments. It wasn't the worst mix I've ever heard but it wasn't what it could've been. They also may need to invest in more audience-facing PA speakers to help the EQ. Or at least establish a better mid-range.

Once the openers were finished we saw Origami Angel load their stuff. It was a budget operation and the two band-mates put their setup together by themselves along with their engineer buddy. I was slightly surprised by this, considering there were about 500 people there, but I guess that's just how they do it.

The drummer was playing a very small and I'm assuming very expensive perhaps Ludwig(?) vintage drum kit in a beautiful baby blue finish. I didn't see any guitar amp I only saw what looked like a beginner's Ampeg bass combo amp that I'm guessing runs the split signal through it. The guitarist played a strat that had an LED light on the pick guard. I'm guessing that had to do with the split signal and the pickups down-tuning specific strings. What would be crazy would be if the tap-tempo manipulation was also being sent to a wireless box (queued up by the LED light flickering to give the engineer a visual cue) and altering the bass note syncopation through that little Ampeg amp, but that seems a bit lofty. 
Their engineer had a laptop and I was curious if he was recording the soundboard audio to his computer. He really should be. He should probably have some sort of MOTU that takes the board into a stereo IO interface that's plugged into his laptop just to get some rough audio every night in order to sync it with fan videos, or have someone else taking video of every set. His laptop would need some good RAM to make sure it didn't fail and ruin any sound being piped through the soundboard/mixer, but I imagine 16GB would do the trick. Anyways, they set up their gear on stage fast enough then left into the backstage area for about 5-10 minutes.

Before they re-entered the stage area the PA played some hip-hop spoken word/rap hype-up track to the waiting crowd. That audio gave a gist of, "We knew what had to be done, so we did it to get where we are today." It was a message that they put in a lot of work and practice to become what they are. That's what I got from it, at least.

If I were them I probably would've just started playing once the gear was setup, but I guess because of the big crowd they wanted to create some more suspense. This whole mashup of hip-hop audio and emo is nothing new. Oh, side note, someone... (the house engineer perhaps?) started playing Q and Not U's best song off their album "No Kill No Beep Beep," I guess as an homage to the fact Origami Angel is also from Washington D.C. It was noted.

Once they walked out, they opened up with something off "Somewhere City" and although I wasn't impressed with anyone's choice of stage attire leading up to them hitting the stage, the lead singer of Gami did brandish some sort of multicolored Umbro Jersey that was what the kids call, "drip." I still disagree with his man-bun though. 
I mean this in all seriousness when they first ripped through about three songs, this guy, to me is like "emo Kurt Cobain." The way he was playing guitar and singing right at the front of the stage was very Kurt Cobain-esque. As the guy next to me was filming on his phone I immediately saw the similarities through his phone screen. I can see 20 years from now the soundboard audio being synced to audience videos, just like you see for Nirvana bootlegs nowadays.
Now, that comparison could be misconstrued or even taken the wrong way. Sort of like, "Dad!! You're embarrassing me!" but I do mean what I've said here. This band and the songwriter created one of the best albums of the genre with "Somewhere City." I'm not even a big emo fan (though I'm a historian of the genre, in a sense) and I can confidently say it wrecks like 95% of what came before it, other than perhaps Saves the Day, and some Two Tongues stuff I guess. There are tons of albums so I'd have to go through and really compare. Drive Like Jehu, all that stuff. There's a lot to evaluate but it's definitely, for me, on the list of greatest emo albums ever, as I said in the beginning of this article.
Anyway, the lead singer doesn't lean into his whole "rockstar" status (or image) too much... but for me, the whole "emo Kurt Cobain" thing is kind of what I see going on here. Perhaps the only real missing ingredient is some slightly more mature, thought-provoking lyrical content. But the music is already perfect. 
A lot of the fans of this group seem to be younger people, and it's justified with some of their teeny-bopper lyrics about inconsequential stuff like video-games and sneakers. But on crowd reaction alone I haven't seen an emo band come close to this in quite a while. There's obviously something there.

Side note, I think the singer could loosen up some of the lyrics too, and perhaps change words during the live shows to mess around and improvise a bit. Maybe, "I'm the king and you're the czar" could become, "You're the king and I'm bizarre." Stuff like that. I only mention it because I believe he substituted "Secret" for "Adidas" at some point, and I preferred the former. He could really start messing around with some of the lyrics even more, in my opinion.
To loop back around on the lack of a third member... With Origami Angel, I firmly believe the absence of a bass player is pudding where you might find proof of mass appeal. What I mean by that is... sure, this group is relatively unknown and not mega star status. I believe if they added a bass player that complimented their style perfectly... they'd have the potential to play to massive crowds and go down as some of the "best to ever do it." I could see them having shirts in Walmart and becoming a household name, for sure. The band name is decent. Not great, but not awful.

They are being smart and taking all the money they can by keeping it a two-piece. They're also maintaining control. But notice, they're using a third member (in the engineer) who is piping in audio during the concerts. If they hired a bass player, his or her contribution to opening up the sound would be game-changing and... because the lead singer wrote everything already, he'd retain control over writing responsibilities. The crowd at this show last night was excited, but with a bass player I believe we could see absolute mayhem. Not to mention they are held back by bass notes being pinned to the guitar chords. It's compensated for in terms of the songwriting, but still, there's potential for musical expansion that's being overlooked. It's pretty easy to wrap your head around if you think about it. It would also take pressure off the front-man.
Adding the right bass player would open up more room for everyone to shine, despite what the singer or drummer might think, that's the truth. A lot of guys in the music scene who are this talented (not all of them, but about 50%) are also extremely unwilling to compromise, sometimes in ways that end up hurting their potential. It's the classic rock star ego and it's alive and well, and I'm not sure of their exact reasons for forgoing a bass player are... but if they figured it out they could become even bigger (if that's what they want). If not, they can still rest assured they're one of the best emo bands of all time, if you ask me. But it's funny too, because I've seen bands that were almost identical to them, about 10-15 years ago just playing DIY shows, so there's a fine line with what's going on here. A lot of emo bands never got any shine who were comparable in terms of sound/quality. I do think this band is still a cut above, though.

As they started playing some B-sides they lost the crowd a little bit. Every time they went into a song from "Somewhere City" the crowd went off.

I was happy to see they played the song, "Caught In A Moment," and I was paying attention to the drummer to see if he matched his recorded drum track whilst performing the song live. On the "Gami Gang" album he plays the same fill twice towards the end of the song. The second time around he applies slight variation: the first iteration's kick drum punctuation is replaced with flams the second time around... He played the entire sequence just like on the album.

The drummer is totally laser-focused and locked-in at all times. He doesn't miss a beat. His stick work is pretty good. I noticed he wasn't forcing notes but relying on the natural bounce-back (i.e. rebound) from the drum heads to continue his rolls/etc. He seemed pretty chill while playing extremely fast and I noticed he had crazy power too, every drum stroke was a hard hit. The fact he's on a smaller kit amplified his ability even more. Very consistent depth to his snare drum strokes. There was maybe a slight fatigue from him towards the 75% over mark during the set, but hardly noticeable. 
The guitarist's actual guitar work, to me, was good but not mind-blowing really. His songwriting is really the key. It seems like his recipe for success is just cascading a waterfall of hooks into a song, all at different rhythmic patterns, each with their with catchy chorus that has a distinct melody pattern that is fairly dynamic, or complex.
It's sort of like sentences. A simple sentence is "I like cat food." The melodic equivalent would be similar to extrapolating the words from the sentence into notes on the tonal spectrum. Every word in the sentence is a 1-syllable word, so you get a 4-note melody. Which is good. But this guy will write more complex sentences, something like, "Because I like cat food, I always feel so...damn... good!!!  Everyday!!" and match those melodic notes to a catchy little drum and guitar hook. Then he'll do that about 10-25 times per song in various ways. 
Every musical passage is very much at the top-level of what you can do within a songwriting framework... in terms of keeping everyone's attention and providing different parts that never get boring. Every part is a hook. 
The frontman sings well, though I noticed he was struggling with high notes during the show at one point. He didn't do any screaming at the show, although he screams on their "Gami Gang" album in a few songs. I was waiting to hear it, but I don't think he screamed live. Can't remember actually. Maybe he did once. Some of his screaming is actually well done, so really he can do it all. I suspect the screaming on "Somewhere City" was done by someone else, a friend of the group I'm assuming. Those vocals are mixed behind the singing vocals, mostly on choruses with descending notes. It's easy to hear within the mix once you recognize it's there.

The singer, despite being uninterested in any extended conversation on the street, won me over at the end of the show for two reasons which I'll get into in a bit. I was ready to dismiss this group as a guy who is too full of himself for me to really be a fan. Because, look, I approached him, as a fan, in the most generic and friendly way possible, and he pretty much just ignored me. If I were in his position, it sort of depends on the situation how I'd react. I believe I would probably engage in some conversation with the person at the very least. In fact, I have been in this exact position and talked to people I didn't know (who knew a lot about me, though) for a while. So, it's tough to say. On a certain day I could also be guilty of doing exactly what he did, to "keep it a buck" as the kids say. He could've also had to report back to the venue on some sort of time limit to not miss the catering or something. Who knows.
But, I stood and watched the whole time to see if I could figure him out. He did some stuff that won me over where I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. 
I noticed during the show he seemed to just be staring off into space, intermittently. When everyone is loving your B-sides and there's a bald 36 year old quietly judging you from the soundboard I'm sure you're wondering why. The eye contact from both guys over the course of their set said it all, for me, though it'd be impossible to put that into words.
But anyway, I was kinda debating whether or not this lead singer was a poser after he ditched me on the sidewalk, to be totally transparent. About halfway through the show I almost was convinced he was. However... at the very end of the show I felt satisfied with giving him the benefit of the doubt. Here's why.

The first thing is that he admitted to the audience that an encore is a waste of everyone's time. That I respected big time. Shows he was more about being practical and the music than anything else like projecting some image out there.

The second thing is how the show ended. With one song left, the front cleared out. The show was filled with 20-something girls and I imagine once they knew it was almost over they wanted to kinda get towards the exit before everyone else. 
I have never seen this at a concert, and it was kinda weird; a major chunk of the audience cleared out before the show ended. I kind of understood why, it's like leaving The Knicks game early, to get a jump on traffic, but I don't know if I've seen this phenomenon at such a small concert. It wasn't like only five people walked away... All the sudden there was a gap where about 30-40 people all had just bounced. Kind of weird.
Anyway, there was a bit of a mass exodus during their last two songs. That's where I saw my opportunity to get closer to the front. so I walked right up towards the stage.

There was some dude, who had to be in his 50's, on his buddy's shoulders doing double fist pumps in the now-completely-empty circle right in front of the stage... He looked like a music critic. Once he stopped, The band went into a track off "Somewhere City" and I stood at the edge of the now-empty front-of-the-audience semi-circle.

It was a weird sense that "now that everyone's cleared out" those of us who are left (who have been standing off to the side for the entire show) can really mine these last few moments here for what they're worth. Sort of like chugging the last bits of Doritos out of a bag that's 95% already finished, and maybe even crushing a beer can on your forehead afterwards.
This moment was a mixture of both older, over-30 people and younger kids, probably down to like 16-17 year olds who met at the front of the stage and in my opinion it felt like we all said, "We're all gonna relish these last scraps of music and part of this show right here for this split second." And that's what happened.
Commence some open-hand shoving at the best part of this closing song, I'm pretty sure it was...666 flags.
And from there I could tell the band wasn't phoning it in. They got me. Right at the end I got hyped. They played hard until the final note of their show. The singer projected his music authentically and the crowd was in on the fun. Big vibes right at the very end of their set to the remaining people in the front. And it carried out into the street too. It was very unexpected.
To wrap up... I pretty much silently evaluated this band the entire time to see what they were about. I already knew their recordings and musical composition were top notch. I was there to learn more. I don't think the lead singer, nor drummer phoned it in. They convinced me right at the end there.  I left with a smile on my face. The band went out on a high, and I exited with one. I'm pretty sure the lead singer might've taken the stage on one. Don't ask me how I know. Also, there were a couple of moments from this show I've left out of the blog post, but I'd gladly speak about in real life. If anyone is curious just bang the line.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Classic VHS Review: Interview with a Vampire

I first heard about this movie when Richard Christy (Howard Stern) talked about it on the radio and how he had a "moment" with ano...