On a dark, cold and somewhat rainy night in Chicago, the tour that is Other Lives and Indians rolled into town for one final gasp of air before disappearing for awhile. See, Other Lives have been on tour for what seems like forever. They released their second full length Tamer Animals in mid-2011, and have barely taken a break since then. They’ve been around the world and back multiple times, and were even offered a slot opening for Radiohead for the first leg of their King of Limbs tour in early 2012. By the time they showed up in Chicago for the first of two shows, this particular leg of 40+ American dates extended back to mid-October. But Chicago was the final stop, at which point they promised no more touring for awhile as they worked steadily to complete their next album. Fresh 4AD signee Indians has also been with them for this last set of dates, touring in advance of the debut album Somewhere Else, due out in January. So how did both bands fare after so much time on the road and the end in sight? Read on to find out.
Søren Løkke Juul is the name of the Copenhagen multi-instrumentalist behind the name Indians, and though press materials often reference a band along with the word “they,” the genuine reality is it’s just the one guy. Well, he has a friend that helps with stage set-up and take down and runs the soundboard during the show, but Juul is the only person on stage, at least for the time being. Like many great singer-songwriters, there’s a good chance a couple people might eventually join up with him to help make performing live easier and better. That’s not to say he was bad though, because there was something thrilling and impressive about the way he twisted knobs, pushed buttons, and played keyboards and guitars, sometimes all in the course of a single song. He’s clearly very talented, even if he looks a little lonely on stage. But this was the way he originally constructed the songs that will appear on the first Indians album, before being given a budget and a studio and a couple extra hands to help flesh out some very raw demos. All things considered, 2012 has worked out quite well for Juul, as he’s gone from playing his first live shows ever this past February in his hometown, to getting a record deal, studio time and a world tour. In essence, the shrink wrap has barely been removed on this project that is likely to lead to big things for 2013. For now though, you could say that Indians are still a bit green when it comes to performances. With more than 40 shows under his belt on this fall tour alone, surely Juul has grown in confidence and stage presence, but he’s not quite there yet. Maybe it’s a product of trying to do too much on his own, or maybe as he continues to tour things will only get better.
At bigger issue are the songs themselves. When he’s got a guitar in hand, Indians can sound a little like The Tallest Man on Earth crossed with M. Ward. When working on keyboards or other electronic elements, he can be a Toro y Moi or Baths. Almost everything sounds like something you’ve heard before in one context or another, and none of it particularly stands out or is strikingly catchy. Perhaps that’s more to do with the way these songs were performed rather than how they actually sound on record. The album version of “Cakelakers” (MP3) for example sounds positively radiant compared to the shrug-worthiness of how it was done live. Still, it seems unlikely that Indians are a future success story among intense music lovers, at least not until he starts to push and strain against his current limitations. Keep one eye on this guy though – the crowd at Schubas really seemed to like him, and he was warm and friendly to every fan that approached him after the show. Kindness might not win you awards and critical acclaim, but connecting with people no matter how good or bad your music is can in many ways be an even greater currency throughout your career.
When it comes to Other Lives, awards and critical acclaim also aren’t on the list (yet), but that doesn’t seem to bother them any. With good reason too, because it’s strikingly easy to enjoy one of their records while appreciating the sheer talent that went into making it. Their sound is largely based in folk with Fleet Foxes-like harmonies, but their ability to incorporate everything from horns to xylophones to cello and piano adds a sense of effortless beauty to the proceedings. Watching them pull it off live is that much more impressive of a feat, as pretty much everyone in the band plays multiple instruments on every song. The energy they bring to their performances is both literally and figuratively electric too, as frontman Jesse Tabish will pound on his piano, smash a few cymbals and generally jump around his part of the stage while various lightbulbs flicker on and off in time with the music. It’s a relatively unique stage setup, one that embraces the showmanship of bigger bands playing in bigger venues, but on a more modest budget. Other Lives would have put on equally interesting show had they not used the oversized on-stage lightbulbs, but there was something indiscreetly charming about them anyways. There was an energy and a passion to their set that just grabbed hold of you and wouldn’t let go. They extend songs where they can get away with it, and make a sharp left turn into a cover of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” during the bridge of one of their own tracks, simply because there’s a similar chord progression. Transformations in tracks like “For 12” and “Dust Bowl III” somehow reach new heights compared to their studio versions, and on occasion the thought hits you that this is a band trying to push themselves. They’ve been on tour for so long and played these songs so many times, instead of getting bored with them, they’re finding new and creative ways to take what works in them and place greater emphasis on those elements. It’s one of the big reasons why seeing them live is essential to truly appreciating their songs and records.
They played a new song towards the end of their set, and it fit in well with everything else that they’ve done to this point, which can be viewed as good or bad depending on how you feel about that earlier work. The encore was entertaining too, because Tabish came out to play a song solo on just a keyboard, but apparently broke his on the final song of the main set. So he used one of the other keyboards on stage and it worked out okay. That broken keyboard wasn’t so much an accident as it was the result of a show where the band truly gave their all, and a few smashed keys was part of it. Schubas is apparently a very special venue for the band, and undoubtedly they treated their performance as such. The following night Other Lives had their final show of the tour at Schubas sister venue Lincoln Hall. It’s nearly double the size and boasts a powerful, modern sound system that makes Schubas sound almost meek by comparison. It’s the venue that this band has grown into, on the road to even bigger and better things. Yet in so many regards you can’t beat the intimacy and charm that Schubas has in spades. The point being, while it’s kind of Other Lives to essentially underplay a show in Chicago because they like the venue, it may also be the last time they do it as their popularity continues to rise. It might be six months or a year or longer before Other Lives have a new record and are ready to tour again, and when they finally do, it’s going to be an event not to be missed no matter how good or bad the new songs sound. I walked into Schubas on a rainy Friday night in December with the expectation of hearing some pleasant songs from a pleasant band. What I got was an intense, impressive show that turned me into an instant convert. Other Lives are the real deal.
Click past the jump to stream Tamer Animals in full!