Tendencies do dominate: Nap Eyes live at the Media Club
With Cian Nugent and Milk, 03/26/15
Review by: Leslie Ken Chu Photographs by: Daniel W Young
Unplaceable déjà vu tugged at me throughout both of Nap Eyes‘ openers at the Media Club last Saturday night.
If the first band Milk looked or sounded familiar to anyone, it was because, as I learned after their set, they existed once upon a time under another food name: Watermelon. Milk’s flowing rock sounded equally sweet but, with less attention paid to pedals, slightly more distilled.
Dublin’s Cian Nugent also presented a familiar face and voice. I couldn’t help but feel I’d seen those wavy gold locks and heard that accent before, on that exact stage, under those exact lights. Google confirmed that I had seen him, opening for Angel Olsen there two years earlier.
But Nugent wiped away any memory I had of him as a solo acoustic performer along the lines of rambling, wayward souls like Bert Jansch and Jackson C. Frank. Nugent took the stage with a bassist and Nap Eyes’ Seamus Dalton on drums.
Dalton’s loose patterns evoked a take-things-as-they-come spirit but were quickly engulfed by Nugent’s guitar which was cranked high above everything else, Cian’s own voice included. But the main focus was his smooth note-picking that conjured panoramas of foggy rolling hills as much as his heavy blues-riffs with notes bending out of and back into tune.
Nugent’s greatest highlights came when he switched from electric to an equally if not more amplified acoustic-electric guitar. I had to stop moving and just watch his fingers work. The band jammed on and on, gaining more and more speed, and if they allowed themselves more frills, the song wouldn’t have sounded out of place amongst Tortoise‘s winding, electronics-heavy post-rock compositions. Nugent and co. ended with another long jam, this one containing many false finishes, often in the form of choppy palm-mutes.
Nap Eyes frontperson Nigel Chapman has voiced his belief that artworks should aim to represent multiple sides and perspectives, although it’s reasonable if certain tendencies dominate. Fans at the Media Club who’d never seen Nap Eyes before learned that the laidback outfit also has more than one side.
Although Nap Eyes are mostly praised for their lyrical depth, at the Media Club, their guitars ran wild enough to send resident freak-rocker Johnny De Courcy dancing and rocking out in the front row. Set opener “Mixer” retained its overall aloofness and fragile sentimentality, but “Roll It” was written to rollick, and rollick it did. Chapman and Brad Loughead’s guitars periodically squealed through its sparse melody.
Subtlety is key to all facets of Nap Eyes, and even the addition of guitar slide to a new song they played added a palpable new dimension to their music.
“Stargazer” remained most faithful to the album version. It was so unhurried, I felt the room behind me stop swaying, stop boldly bobbing their heads, close their eyes, and hang onto the song’s every note and word, opening their dreamily glazed eyes once in a while just to make sure it was all real, that they hadn’t slip into a slumber. But, having been only a few feet in front of Chapman with nothing in between, I never looked back.
From there, Nap Eyes immediately picked the tempo back up, spiking peaking, even with “Tribal Thoughts”, possibly the most “rock ‘n’ roll” selection from their discography.
During the band’s closing number, Chapman knelt on both knees and picked his way through “No Fear of Hellfire”. Semblances of the original riff peaked through the roughage of Loughead’s far chunkier, far more frenetic playing while Chapman stared at a spot on the floor one foot in front of him.
For anyone who might not appreciate a louder, more up-jump, and less melodic Nap Eyes, take solace: the band’s most lauded tendencies do dominate.