October 15 at the 7th Street Entry was a night of pleasant and enjoyable if unremarkable indie rock.
Pepper Rabbit are a three-person, all-male band that like headliner BRAIDS have been described as “experimental pop” and play lovely songs with a slightly dark edge. Where the bands differ is that where BRAIDS bring an element of quirk and an unrivaled sense of intimacy on stage and generally exude artistry, Pepper Rabbit come off as your standard indie bro soft rock band. The only deviation from the typical head-down-sway-emotively-behind-your-instrument format was when lead singer Xander Singh picked up a ukulele, which only made the act seem more formulaic. Pepper Rabbit live weren’t bad, but they weren’t memorable either.
Having already reviewed BRAIDS in February and April of this year, I struggled to find a way to describe the still-great, still-seamless, still-intimate-as-hell set in a way that wasn’t redundant and was more interesting than simply saying, “They played new material. Then they played old material. Then they played new material again.” As I took notes during the show, I realized that the best way to talk about a self-described “avant-garde” act for the third time was simply to use fresh analogies! So without further ado, here are some new ways to describe a BRAIDS live show.
Watching BRAIDS live at the Entry is like accidentally walking in on a practice session. If that practice session was held in a dank basement lit by off-season pink Christmas lights. I’ve previously described BRAIDS as an “alt jam session” which maintains its accuracy, but what struck me this time was just how unbelievably personal what you were watching felt. Lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston and keyboardist Katie Lee rarely took their eyes off of each other, which undoubtedly had something to do with the intricacy and near-flawlessness of their vocal harmonies. None of the band members including Austin Tufts (drums) and Taylor Smith (bass, auxilary percussion) had any significant interaction with the crowd, even so far as making eye contact. Where this might leave the audience feeling unfulfilled or disconnected in other situations, in this case it worked towards the ethereal environment that a BRAIDS live show fosters.
BRAIDS live is like performance art. Having heard about the experimental nature of the act, during the sound check when Standell-Preston was doing vocalizations and a loop of “Lemonade” was playing softly in the background, a friend turned to me and said, “Is this it? Is this performance art?” Though the question made me laugh, that’s the thing that’s so cool about the Entry—you get to see your favorite bands in a humanizing, almost vulnerable light. Eventually BRAIDS may play a larger venue where they’ll likely appear more like the Polaris-Prize-short-listed, got-an-eight-from-Pitchfork band that they are, but for now the casual setting was a great fit for the uncomplicated stage show that lets the music do the talking.
The crowd looks like a sea of early-30s post-hipster couples who outgrew partying in exchange for hobbies like rock climbing and canning tomatoes and only left their duplex in South Minneapolis on a weeknight because they have been really devoted Braids fans since they opened for Deerhunter’s Canadian dates in 2008. You hate these people, but at least they didn’t really publicly frisk each other like the Baths-era, mostly-underaged BRAIDS crowd.
Katie Lee is the Avey Tare to Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s Panda Bear. Anyone who’s read BRAIDS press has heard the “BRAIDS are like Animal Collective…” analogy, which is pretty accurate. Though most people likely make this comparison in regards to their experimental, mystical sound (think AnCo album Feels), I will go so far as comparing Standell-Preston’s strong but unfussy lead voice and Lee’s less-utilized but more stylized voice to Panda Bear and Avey Tare’s voices respectively. The most successful vocal moments of the set occur when they harmonize.
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