Last October’s Apples in Stereo show at Portland’s Mississippi Studios brought home two urgent points: 1) not enough bands seem to have fun playing live and 2) more bands should wear uniforms.
In a town where brooding, flannel-clad folkies vie with irony-crippled hipsters for stage space, the Apples’ unabashed spirit of pop confectionery was a welcome relief. As they took the stage, frontman Robert Schneider grinned at the crowd and said, “Cool!” as if he was genuinely amazed by the fact that people come to hear him play. It was a refrain he repeated throughout the night as Schneider led the band through a frenzied, sometimes sloppy, but always rocking set that spanned the Apples’ nearly 20-year history.
Watching the band’s six members schlep their own gear before their set, you had to conclude that they were in this because they loved it—they’re certainly not living the rich rock star lifestyle, despite having released seven albums since 1995. The band was touring in support of their new album, Travellers in Space and Time, a continuation of their ELO-inflected, keyboard-heavy sound that began to emerge on 2007’s New Magnetic Wonder.
Sporting the “new” lineup that took shape in 2006 (after Schneider and longtime drummer Hilarie Sidney got divorced), the band crammed six members onto the tiny stage, including three keyboards (!), and the indispensable vocoder featured in recent songs like “Dance Floor.” The song is silly and fluffy, and therefore brilliant in the way the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” is brilliant—it’s 100% pure pop, with no apologies and no attempt to make a grand point.
In other words, it’s fun.
And that’s not something I can say for one of the opening bands, Fol Chen, which describes itself on its MySpace page as playing “melodramatic popular song.” (Sadly, I missed the opening set by Portland’s own The Minders.) By turns mopey and precious, the band’s 40-minute set couldn’t even be redeemed by the cool matching red uniforms they wore. Nothing like Nehru collars and epaulets to bring a band’s stage presence up a notch, I have to say. I won’t be getting their album, but if I could find one of those jackets, I’d buy one.
And while we’re on point number 2 (i.e., the benefits of band uniforms), I should mention that the Apples came on stage wearing matching sparkly silver uniforms. Schneider, whose outfit was more like a long silver robe than the jackets worn by his bandmates, announced “We’re the Apples in Stereo, and we’re from the future.” (Because what else says “future” like sparkly silver? Except for maybe vocoders.) Again, there was no real point to it, but it was pretty fun.
After a handful of songs from the new album, the band dipped into several of my favorites, including “Strawberryfire,” “I Can’t Believe,” and “Tin Pan Alley,” as well as great newer songs such as “Same Old Drag” and “Energy.”
Drummer John Dufilho (also of The Deathray Davies, a band you should check out if you don’t know them) gave the encore tune “Tidal Wave” (from the band’s first LP, Fun Trick Noisemaker) a whole lot of extra juice, creating a more tribal, pulsing intro than the one on the album and generally adding a lot more Ringo-ness (to coin a term) to the tune than Hilarie Sidney ever could. (No knocks against Sidney, though. Her work with the High Water Marks the last few years is worth a listen, though it’s probably not as fun as the Apples in Stereo.)
I’m hoping the Apples come through town again soon. If anyone knows of a particularly fun band scheduled to play here soon, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for one of those red jackets.