School of Seven Bells Takes State College to School

Photo by Nate "Sweetjeans" McCartney

Hot damn, that was something.

As you surely remember from last issue, School of Seven Bells kicked off the East Coast leg of their tour right here in the lovely town of State College, PA. Local mover and shaker Jeff Van Fossan booked the show through his Roustabout music showcase in a cozy, intimate venue: his own hookah lounge, Chronic Town. (Van Fossan was so elated, he actually crowdsurfed at the show, which is hilarious if you’ve ever been inside the cave-like confines of Chronic Town. The ceiling is pretty low. He was close enough that he could have reached up, grabbed a beam and started crawling across the ceiling like a hip Spiderman.  Van Fossan was smiling and uninjured. Kudos to you, good sir.)

Chronic Town (with a capacity of 200)  is a small venue for such an ascending band, but that’s the way the band wanted it. They passed up an opportunity to play at the much larger State Theater. They Might Be Giants, Andrew Bird, Umphrey’s McGee and Galactic are just some of the bands who’ve played there in the past. It’s a larger venue with plenty of seats and a bar, but not the best place for dancing. School of Seven Bells preferred the relative openness and closeness of the hookah lounge, so Van Fossan said “sure.” It turned out to be a great choice. Van Fossan says his reaction when he finally booked the band to play there was, “one of surprise and delight.” Funny, that’s about how I felt during the show.

Local band Think Twice, Dublin opened with some sonic dissonance layered over Battles-esque rhythms. Think Twice, Dublin is a power trio with two guitarists and a drummer. The band’s drummer did the main vocals on their first song and backing vocals throughout the show. It was a nice touch, as was the drawing on the bass drum in blue and white of a thinker with his head in the clouds, overlooking the ocean with a boat sailing off into the distance. Clearly the band tried to evoke the feeling of this picture, with some success.

The crowd seemed split on the band. Some people were really digging them, others couldn’t wait to hear the Bells. Think Twice, Dublin felt like a band going in the right direction and starting to put something together, making only minor mistakes along the way. The biggest criticism I can levy was the lack of harmony in some of the songs. Dissonance can be great, if you can make pleasing sounds out of it. Too much of Think Twice, Dublin’s sonic adventures went too far away from harmony, but that’s something a good producer could probably help them with.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked Think Twice, Dublin. They threw in a great cover of Can’s “Vitamin C” during their set. They’ve also been playing a lot of shows in town, including the recent Arts Crawl.  They’ve got a mostly good sound and some great riffs. If they keep it together, they may actually go somewhere.

We got a brief pause after Think Twice, Dublin as the DJ, Matt “Tapes” Steck, blasted us with the best of the 80s. Everyone was on their feet, surrounding the small stage. When School of Seven Bells finally came out in black and silver, the room exploded.

Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis took the stage in head-to-toe black. Curtis was in a funky black sweater, while Deheza wore a black dress and was decked out in crazy silver jewelry: intricate loop necklaces, huge bracelets and rings. Benjamin’s only bling was a large silver ring on his finger, glinting in the lights as he played. Accompanying Deheza and Curtis to the stage were keyboardist/vocalist Allie Alvarado (of Painted Face) and Chris Colley on drums.

There was a funny murmur when Alvardo came out. The tall, dark-haired girl looked vaguely like ex-member Claudia Deheza (Alejandra’s twin sister) in the low light, enough to confuse the crowd until they got a better look at her. It was even more confusing for the few audience members that didn’t even realize Claudia wasn’t still in the band. The band itself never addressed this issue or even the crowd really. It was a solid, straight ahead assault of songs from all of the School of Seven Bells albums, with over half of the songs off the new album Ghostory.

The band spoke to the audience with its music and carefully cultivated style. Deheza would sway to the beat, seemingly possessed, only to return to the mic and unleash lavish, haunting melodies. A beautiful anti-diva, the female singer barely seemed to notice the crowd at times, looking off into space or maybe seeing ghosts that everyone else couldn’t. Several times during the show, she picked up a black and silver guitar to wail on. It amped up the energy in the packed room even higher. She can definitely play.

Curtis’ guitar work was an excellent counterpoint to Deheza’s voice. The interlacing melodies the two created, along with solid drumbeats and complex synth, put the audience into a sonic trance. Curtis didn’t let the heat in the close quarters bother him, keeping his sweater on for most of the show. The two seemed totally in sync on stage, like the two tines of a tuning fork. If losing Claudia Deheza bothered them at all, they certainly didn’t show it. After hearing them live, it seems like it’s only made them stronger.

As good as the new album sounds recorded, it sounds even better in concert and up close. I wasn’t sure how good School of Seven Bells would be live–if the sound was dependent on the production or not. My questions were answered big time by this show. School of Seven Bells took us all to school. It was powerful, intense, fun. You could feel the high level of energy in the room. Everyone was going nuts, dancing and jumping or just swaying enraptured to the music.

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to talk to Deheza after the show. I just so happened to record that interview, so I could share it with all the loyal readers of THE BOMBER JACKET. I figured it’d be more fun to actually hear her than for me to just tell you what she said. You’ll have to bear with my voice and the noise of the other band members in the background of the green room playing pinball excitedly. Click below to listen to me fawn over Deheza, who was very nice in person. I asked her how her sound has evolved, we talked about the new album and I found out that she has never been pickpocketed. Learn about loveable drunks, their new tour and the use of sacred geometry in the band’s art and music.

Hope you all dug my review of this great show. We don’t get so many ’round these parts, so I might as well tell you about them when we do. Check out my other article in this issue about the other big event in town last week and tune in next issue for…

Well, I’m not sure what the next article will be, but it’ll be great.



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