Hopewell, Castledoor @ Spaceland, 6/07/09
There is something immensely comforting about residencies - month-long appearances by bands at a relatively small venue. By their very nature, they imply homeliness and a familiarity that is both welcoming and calm. The shows, for example, are almost always free and the headlining band, via their month stay, has a fantastic opportunity to endear themselves to fans and staff by their very repetitive nature.
Alas, in as much as some bands are more interesting than others, not all residencies are created equally. Take Castledoor for instance. The L.A.-based power-pop sextet is currently headlining Spaceland’s June residency and doing so with great verve. Fresh off the release of their debut album, Shouting at Mountains, these spry pepsters have more enthusiasm than a Dr. Seuss book, a comparison that is surprisingly apt: their live performances are a fanciful affair of great exuberance, supported by lyrics that never seem to extend past two syllables.
But, where as there is a sly genius to Dr Seuss’s works beneath his seemingly childish drawings and monosyllabic prose, Castledoor’s songs remain simply childish.
Songs like “Dumpster Diving” and “Skipping Stepping Stones” spin hopeful yarns with fluffy instrumentation fans of Vampire Weekend have come to love.
That said, there is no denying the fun and lovely innocence of Castledoor. Led by lead singer Nate Cole, the group plays well off each other. There is cohesion, uniformity and you get the feeling that Castledoor is genuinely having the time of their life on stage.
When you peel the thin outer layer of pep, though, and consider the gravity of their music, disappointment set in rather quickly. Each song annoyingly blended into one another like a thin veneer of clear plastic with a summer vacation crowd enthralled by such lyrics as “Baby in the dumpster we will dive” ("Dumpster Diving") and “Older generations made their decisions/We dont wanna follow that formula” ("Burn the Maps”).
(A note on the crowd that evening: each band, from the trio of pleasing indie-rockers Eastern Conference Champions that opened the show, to the blisteringly great Hopewell, to Castledoor, each band carried a sound so disparate from each other that a new crop of fans shuffled in after each set. It was like three different classes were in session during one school day with each teacher stressing a different subject.)
Dont get me wrong: Castledoor is a fun band. They ooze exuberance and induce more than a bit of hip swaying and foot tapping. They pack a certain amount of enjoyment and a whole lot of lightness, which can be a welcome distraction from our every day hecticity. But once you graduate from college and begin to experience the joys of life outside of the confined and organized world of school (and, by extension, simple and cliched one liners about love), you might desire music with more depth.
Which is where Hopewell comes in. The Brooklyn-based quintet, on a barnstorming tour in support of their latest album, Good God Desperation took to the stage at 10:15 and made it their own in every way for the better part of an hour. It was clear, from even before their set, that Hopewell was accustomed to doing things their way: the stage was adorned in fake ivy that entwined mic stands and speakers; incense burned gently on the stage; and the band requested a different lighting arrangement to best set the mood for the Zeppelin inspired rockers. And inspiring it was. Hopewell bled rock and roll on stage, setting Spaceland on fire with tracks from their newest album - including the 5 minute 30 title track and the epic “Bury Me Standing,” which closes Desperation.
The speakers thumped with life and the crowds silent awe (as opposed to the constant yammering during Castledoor’s set) during each song spoke volumes about their commanding performance. It was a striking set of good, ol fashioned Rock, of which there is still a place in today’s crowded music scene.
Hopewell also treated the crowd with “Afterglow,” a standout track from their debut album Hopewell and the Birds of Appetite, their first in what will hopefully be a series of deeply gifted and wonderfully spacey psych-rock albums.
An hour after Hopewell sang “Afterglow,” their introspective anthem to lost love, Castledoor provided the antithetically perfect “Skipping Stepping Stones,” a boppy ode to waltzing through blades of grass over rocks. The two songs, set at different ends of the musical spectrum, differentiated themselves more than just in tone; it was a generational leap between a band stuck in the twilight of their youth and the other who has readily accepted maturity.
Find out for yourself: Castledoor plays every Monday in June for free at Spaceland.