After a difficult search for a parking spot, some exquisite Qdoba and a long walk, I finally reached the entrance of the Local 506 in Chapel Hill at promptly 7:30 PM, ticket in hand and excitement brewing. I've been a huge fan of O'Brother ever since picking up Garden Window on vinyl during their 2011 tour with Thrice, and having missed them in North Carolina the past few times, I wasn’t going to let a show slip by me again.
Local openers, The Bronzed Chorus, began the show strongly with an intriguing form of delay-driven, instrumental tunes, which were enough to prompt the O'Brother guys to come stand in the crowd to check the duo out. With only one guitarist and a drummer, you would think that the sound would come across as rather thin, but the drummer impressively played his kit with one hand while using his other for synth and keys for the entire set. Some technical difficulties arose at about the fourth song in and delayed the performance for about ten minutes, setting the stage for the slew of sound problems that would soon follow.
Daylight set up quickly and began trudging through their set with huge volume and little to no movement. After the first song, the man behind the soundboard urged the band to turn down their extremely loud amplifiers, since it was basically impossible to hear any vocals, and he then informed them that the volume was peaking out the PA system. Oddly enough, Daylight just shrugged it off completely and said they didn’t care, launching into their next song without any delay. The rest of their set was dominated by a ton of fuzz, shouting in front of microphones, and barely a shred of any audible vocals.
By the time Native began, it was becoming clear that this show was going to be criminally under-attended. With only about 30 people in the crowd, Native urged everyone to gather around the stage before they took control of the room. The same problem with quiet, overpowered vocals occurred again, but that didn’t stop Native from delivering a surprisingly impressive performance, full of interesting samples, energy, and most noticeably: restraint. Native would play about a minute’s worth of heavy, powerful music before going completely silent for another section. Rigged up behind them were lights that flashed whenever they played their instruments, so these bouts of silence were rather eerie when paired with the darkness. All in all, I think Native made a very large impression on the crowd that was, for the most part, unfamiliar with their material.
Years ago when I saw O'Brother, the person running the sound clearly had no idea how to mix the band’s three guitarists’ equally loud and fuzzy tones, but luckily, this time around, the band had brought their own soundman with them, who did an excellent job mixing the vocals with the instruments in a PA that had been giving each band trouble that night. To put it simply, O'Brother sounded absolutely huge, exuding a sense of professionalism and refinement that you rarely see in such a sparsely attended show, and regardless of whether they were playing in front of 30 or 30,000, these Atlanta, Georgia musicians brought everything they had to the stage that night and powered through an hour-long set with unmatched skill and precision.
The selection of songs was wonderfully mixed between new material and old, and even a cut from their 2009 offering, The Death of Day, made its way into the set. Garden Window fans such as myself were certainly pleased with the selection, with inclusions such as “Lo,” “Lay Down,” and even the epic closer “Cleanse Me” that finished off the performance in perfect fashion. Interestingly, only a few tracks from Disillusion were played, perhaps because O'Brother wanted to give their fans more time to digest their latest offering, but regardless of whether or not you prefer the new stuff to the old, you won’t be able to deny the pure power of “Perilous Love” live after witnessing it. Bass player, Anton Dang, was a highlight of the show, with an all-around fantastic, energetic performance, especially during “Poison!” and the dominating presence of vocalist Tanner Merritt on stage certainly left a lasting impression.
It’s a shame that more people didn’t come out to see O'Brother in Chapel Hill, but a few nights later, they were playing a few hours up the road in Columbus, and according to some of my friends, the attendance was much better at that venue. Of course, the band didn’t let the small turnout in Chapel Hill dampen their mood and were more than thankful for the crowd’s presence, but given O'Brother’s talent and fantastic live show, they deserve far more than thirty devoted fans. I’ll have my fingers crossed that next time around, it’ll be a packed, crowded evening with just as much energy and talent as always.