Radio Bean Roulette
In Memory of Pluto and The Villanelles @ Radio Bean, Saturday, February 23.
PHOTO: JEREMY GANTZ
In Memory of Pluto
One of my favorite Burlington pastimes is to look at the Seven Days music calendar on a given night, find a band or two I know next to nothing about and go check ’em out. It’s a game you can play virtually any night of the week in our lakeside hamlet. Folks who complain there’s nothing going on in the Queen City just ain’t trying hard enough.
While Burlington and outlying areas have no shortage of excellent music venues to choose from, perhaps no joint regularly serves up the unexpected like Radio Bean, whose music calendar is as eclectic as the café itself and the clientele it serves. A veritable breeding ground for the next wave of local talent, the haute hipster hangout plays host to some of the most intriguing acts our little state has to offer. At the Bean, the next diamond in the rough is often only a set break away. But sometimes, too, is the next unbearable dud — the gamble is part of the fun.
So it was that I strolled into the North Winooski Avenue coffeehouse last Saturday night to catch sets by two college bands with whom I was previously only peripherally familiar. Game on.
The term “college band” often evokes images of scruffy dudes with $5 chops hacking out funk covers on $1500 guitars. In other words, just the sort of crap that causes your average rock critic to puncture his own eardrums. I was mildly relieved when The Villanelles, an indie-rock outfit from Champlain College, took the stage and lead singer/guitarist Tristan Baribeau was adorned in eyeliner. I say “mildly” as Robert Smith acolytes inspire within me a similar reaction to the aformentioned funk cover band — only with a bit more crying. We are talking about The Cure, after all.
My apprehension eased once the band finally began playing — it turns out Baribeau was dolled up for the Mardi Gras parade earlier that afternoon, not for dramatic effect. Leading off with two tunes that could have easily been discarded tracks of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, my initial interest was modestly piqued at best. A knockoff is a knockoff, regardless of genre.
But by their third song, the quartet settled in nicely, laying into a slew of tunes that, genre-wise, were all over the map, from agressive post-punk to funk-infused folk-rock. Shades of Television’s Tom Verlaine were frequently evident in Baribeau’s dramatic vocal delivery. The dude has no shortage of emotive ability, though, at times, the fractured indie-kid thing was a bit much.
On the whole, The Villanelles were generally tight, though they bore many of the signature earmarks of a young band. In particular, their scattershot approach was fairly hit or miss, especially toward the end of the set. Solid indie-pop devolved to into borderline pretentious keyboard jams, which seemed to lead to miscommunications between drummer Kevin Marcello and bassist Evan Borden. Still, the group showed numerous flashes of legitmate promise. If they can find a way to rein in the wide array of influences, they’ll be a welcome addition to Burlington’s thriving indie scene.
Next up was St. Michael’s College quintet In Memory of Pluto, who took the stage with a flurry of polished pop-punk energy. Existing somewhere in the space between Jimmy Eat World’s saccharine guitar fuzz and The Format’s poppier-than-thou indie-rock, these guys have more hooks than a pirate ship.
Drummer Ryan McGrath is clearly the group’s backbone and, along with bassist Zach Jandl, provides the foundation for guitarists John Flannagan and Bill Jandl to trade heat-seeking riffs. This is a remarkably tight outfit, college band or not.
Vocalist Seth Gallant, a cannonball of melodramatic energy, delivered soaring, heartwrenching lines with aplomb. The guy is simply a blast to watch. The rest of the band more than matched the front man’s intensity, immaculately dishing out intricate changes.
The band clearly brought college pals along — the Bean was packed to the gills with fresh-faced youngsters. But I’m guessing it won’t take long for these guys to gain some notoriety beyond the ivied walls of St. Mike’s. While they might not appeal to the finicky hipster set, there’s more than enough room in this town for some good old-fashioned, unbridled pop-rock. In Memory of Pluto serves that in spades.