You can tell more about a band when it plays to a dead room than a packed one. Does it acknowledge the low turnout, say more than a few words, and interact with the smattering there? (Invariably, the audience is blank-slate get-out-of-the-housers and fan-listing faithful.) Or does a band clench up and make a headlong dash to the finish line?
Each approach -- best to split the difference, of course -- has its virtues, but always better to err on the side of acknowledgment, n'est-ce pas? To a tombstone room at the Firebird last night, ex-members of Blood Brothers, the defunct screamo/punk band, clenched up in the shape of Past Lives, a new iteration with a new album of controlled commotion.
Fans (and critics) might insist that Tapestry of Webs, the band's debut LP, is a clean break from the past, a statement I'd invite you to inspect by seeing Past Lives live. But then compared to the more exhausting Blood Brothers material (a shadow not soon escaped), its set last night could have been recorded in the basement of the Brill Building. Even so, the performance operated within the precincts of post-hardcore, and did not skimp on aerobic screams or guitar lines as malformed as inbred royalty. The band played songs from Tapestry the way good graffiti looks: confrontational, done quickly, and with some probity and precision.
And yet many of the album's finer moments -- the modulating vocals, the calm interstices -- were absent last night. Past Lives reverted to what it knows best, and much went missing amid the rock-slide drumming and singer Jordan Blilie's flat paint-peeling screech. Added to that reversion was a running intra-band conversation that all but sealed off the group on stage. Past Lives repeatedly said it was from Seattle, but did it care it was in St. Louis?
Brooklyn-based Air Waves, too, looked dipped in sodden obligation for the engagement, even if the brawny twee pop of its songs cheered the mood. Many of them couldn't knock the fluff off a cappuccino, though singer/guitarist Nicole Schneit's raspy voice, like on the delightful "Shine On," made you want to catch fireflies at night. Here now on the cusp of spring, Air Waves was a welcome zephyr.