In my a short span of time in the Honolulu music scene, I have seen, met, and conversed with many bands, artists, and hangers-on. One name that consistently cropped up during these interactions is At Sea. On July 12th, I finally experienced the real deal.
After four years of hiatus, the five member band performed for the largest 39Hotel crowd I have ever seen. The floor was packed. The bar was packed. Even the outdoor table area was standing room only. To see a crowd of this magnitude on a Tuesday night struck home just how important this band was and is.
Clones of the Queen, a fantastic three-piece ambient rock band, did much more than open. While shaky at first due to their rough noise-rock beginning and clashing stage demeanor, I was quickly floored by “Window” and “Galaxies,” their smoother third and fourth songs. Throughout the 10 song setlist, Clones repeatedly soothed me into a trance with their sweet-yet-heavy rhythms only to jolt me back to life with sometimes explosive (but always awesome) crescendos and breakdowns. Ara’s use of vocals as an instrument and comfortably loping stage presence helped to bind the white/black of the guitar’s grooving stoicism to the synth’s seeming inability to stay in one place or position for more than a second. The latter, admittedly, was quite distracting at first. However, as the sound began to take me, I found my own actions reflecting his and, from moment to moment, the other’s, as well. Now, I’m no stranger to being driven to dance by a melody, but this was different. I felt a connection to each of these musicians, like we were, together, sharing the same moment. That I could feel closer to a band in this crowd of a hundred than I have as the lone man in front of the stage demonstrates the power of this band’s performance. And, as if the extra long, roller-coaster ride of a setlist didn’t kick enough, they punctuated it with the hard-hitting “Indestructible.” The flurry of distortioned-laddened, Hendrix-esque guitar solo was laid bare on top of howling synth and trip-hop beats while the vocals rose above it all, almost to wailed proportions. Their epic of epicness complete, the three calmly thanked us and began tearing down. It was then that I noticed I was actually shaking.
After a well needed break on 39Hotel’s wonderful patio, At Sea drew me back into the crowded bar with a strange, almost haunting melody. The crowd, which had thinly filled the room for Clones, now completely engulfed the three guitars, bass, and drums. I’ve never seen so many guitars in a single band before, but their use of layering the sound made it seem as natural as anything. The lone bass did well to keep a slow, steady rumbling that bridged the guitars and smooth, jazz-like drums. The vocals here were even more melodic, often times consisting of no words at all, like a low intensity scat. The overall effect of this was one of a billowing ocean of sound, pushing and pulling the crowd into a sway, the waters carrying us all in it’s tide.
It was suddenly the end of At Sea’s set and I was jolted back to reality by the roar of applause from the throng between myself and the band. I quickly realized I had had my eyes closed the whole time, whisked away into some sort of post-rock meditation. The music, so mellow and full, had brought me to a mood usually experienced in those dark nights with friends and cups of coffee, whiling away the time with Death Cab spinning on vinyl. To find that, here, in a bar full of a crowd of strangers, speaks to the power of this band of five that every soul is glad to have back.
Thanks to Clones of the Queen and At Sea for the lovely music and the bartenders of the always excellent 39Hotel. If you’d like to see some blurry cameraphone photos of the evening, take a look here on our shiny new Flickr.