It was St. Patrick’s day and the Haunt is a bar, so there was a crowd. I suspect the two acts performing helped attendance. The Ithaca Bottom Boys were already on stage when I got in, and people were clearly digging their music. The dance floor was packed, but since the Haunt has like three chairs in the entire building, this was not surprising. The edges of the space were lined with older, generally long-haired men and women, while the front of the stage was surrounded by a younger crowd. There were a few people with green hats in the mix as well. I was wearing some rather uncomfortable hiking boots and a jacket that was way too warm, so I forwent dancing and leaned on the back of one of the benches for most of the show.
The Bottom Boys’ music really runs the gamut from banjo funk to hard rock. Like a lot of bands up here, it’s kind of hard to pin them down to one genre. Some of the songs they played were genuinely funky, some were heavy and some were just rock and roll. They make good use of tight vocal harmonies and generally when they go back to the main section of a song they all stop playing whatever they had gotten to and move directly back to the theme.
The Bottom Boys also have a strange affinity for suspenders and overalls which sometimes jives with their music but is frequently confusing; they are dressed like a bluegrass group, but the music they play is so varied that any outfit they chose would seem out of place at some point or another. They didn’t move around too much but that may just have been because there were a lot of them and the stage was small.
It’s nothing against them, but while they were playing there were considerably more people smoking out on the deck than inside listening to the performance. There is a strange sort of society that pops up among smokers during shows, and some of the members of The Blind Spots were mingling outside with friends from Ithaca. Of course, I didn’t recognize them at the time, having never seen the Blind Spots live before.
In terms of appearance, The Blind Spots are almost a polar opposite of Bottom Boys. They have a drum head with their name on it, and they heavily rely on smoke machines. One of them was dressed in gold sequins, another in a bright purple jacket. In comparison to the Bottom Boys, they look like eighties glam rock just stepped back into the limelight. As they played, some of the shinier clothes came off, but they have clearly taken a very different approach than the Bottom Boys.
Their music was not glam. It was really good. They, unlike the Bottom Boys, have their drum kit mic’d. When I came back inside, after the brief intermission between bands, it seemed like they were twice as loud as their predecessors. It wasn’t painfully loud, but it certainly felt like a rock concert. The textures of the band are just as different. The Bottom Boys use a banjo, distorted guitars and harmonized male voices to get a full, down-home kind of sound. The Blind Spots sound delicately sparse. Not all the time, but I would classify their sound as tighter and more refined than the Bottom Boys. They feel like a band that is just coming into its stride and catching broader attention, as evidenced by their recent tour in the South.
They are superb musicians, play very well together and have a solid live act. But, the music they have online seems bland and forgettable. I don’t know where the magic from their live show went, but it seems like it got sucked out somewhere between the studio and iTunes. They are a band that does better when they blow their album songs up into long jams and have some fun with it. Look up one of the music videos on YouTube, then look up the show they did at SpudFest last year. It’s night and day between their studio recordings and their live sound. Their recordings sound sterile and boring, while their live show was lively and awesome. I suppose if it happened to Janis Joplin it can happen to anyone.
The Blind Spots played a solid electric set, then they passed around a bottle of whiskey and switched to acoustic. They got called up for one encore, which they did, and a second, which they didn’t. Both bands put on a great show. The Bottom Boys had almost too much variation in their music, but they kept it engaging and interesting. The Blind Spots knocked it out of the park, and the two bands seem to get along well, which certainly contributed to the overall atmosphere of the night.
Jacob Kruger is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]