Jan 112011

I went to see an old friend’s band last week and ended up staying through the end of the night to see not only my friend’s band but the stylishly suited opener and the final band on the bill, a young Brooklyn outfit called Apollo Run. No offense to the first two bands, who delivered the kind of fine, traditionally rocking sets I’ve come to expect of them, but I want to focus on Apollo Run.

As they started their set with some mellow songs along the lines of the first YouTube clip here, loaded with rug harmonies, I was both impressed by the band members’ ability to harmonize on nonsense syllables and a bit bugged by the fact that some of the songs reminded me of that Fleet Foxes appearance on Saturday Night Live last fall. As with Fleet Foxes, I was impressed by how deftly and specifically Apollo Run bugged me that way I was bugged by rug pioneers like Crosby, Stills & Nash. I thought there was a point when I would live long enough to never have to hear a certain type of music again, but I was wrong. Rug harmonies are back.

Then the band began to loosen up a bit. Their opening song’s promise of some Police-like dynamics resurfaced along with more rocking dramatics along the lines of Queen and poppier late-period prog bands, like Asia or something (super-cute, engaging singer/keyboardist/guitarist/trumpeter John McGrew would have killed leading a progressive arena band from the late-’70s). More modern influences, surely, came to the fore, influences I could not identify if my life depended on it. They were so anthemic and “1980s,” at times, that I had visions of young, buzz-cutted Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer high-fiving over their soaring harmonies. It was terrifying, but it made me regret some of what I might have missed out on during my too-cool-for-school youth.

Although I couldn’t say I liked the band’s music, at this point, I was fascinated by their technical skill, their musical scope, and their enthusiasm as performers. The sparse audience at this time was composed primarily of old farts who came to celebrate the 4-chords-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach of the first two bands, but a couple dozen dropped, sagging jaws weren’t going to throw McGrew and his bandmates, drummer Graham Fisk and bassist Jeff Kerestes, for a loop. The trio kept bringing it, kept reaching out to the small, confused crowd and inviting all smiles and comments from the crowd, with full confidence that audience response of any form could be turned into audience appreciation.

And it worked! I figured they came out of some performing arts school; they were like an indie-rock Glee. We celebrate Mach Schau here in the Halls of Rock, and here was a case of just that. In the final third of the band’s set Kerestes progressively transformed his bass into a lead instrument and beyond. Out of nowhere a screaming fuzz-guitar solo would be sounded…from his bass. At one point he did some two-fisted hammer-ons that Eddie Van Halen would have died to pull off. While pulling off these Les Claypool-worthy flights of fancy he kept grounded and within the orchestration of the songs, with the somehow gentle touch Chris Squire provided in his most seemingly over-the-top parts for Yes.

It was a fascinating display by all three members of Apollo Run, and they ended the night by hopping off the stage to do some acapella-hambone routine with the 15 or so of us who remained at show’s end. I’m still not sure how much I’d be comfortable hearing the band’s music out of context (but try it below—they actually manage to pull off a lot of their qualities in the studio), but they were fantastic and deserve to be more successful than most bands I see. Go, Apollo Run!


  8 Responses to “Apollo Run: Craft Triumphs Over Personal Taste”

  1. Upstanding of you to give the unknown band a serious consideration. As one of the people who left that show early (hey, it was Thursday with a call for snow the next morning) I thought I saw the regular-fit jeans crowd being replaced by the skinnier jeans boys as the night went on.

    As for your review, it does seem like Queen is a major influence for a lot of young rockers. Muse, Adam Lambert and Katy Perry (!) all name check Queen. Are rock kids back to big and pompous after the quiet, insular indie scene?

  2. “Although I couldn’t say I liked the band’s music, at this point, I was fascinated by their technical skill, their musical scope, and their enthusiasm as performers.”

    This hits the nail on the head for me. Their music was not my cup of tea. I heard all of the influences that you did and none of them particularly appeal to me. But it was tough not to be won over by the skill, ambition and exuberance of the band. There are a lot of less worthy bands with higher profiles that them. I wish them luck.

  3. Yeah, I think KingEd nailed it. k. may be onto something: maybe the big and pompous is making a comeback, and I for one may find it a little more encouraging than all the purposely low-key music that had been popular in the indie scene. Some of that low-key stuff is good (as is always the case), but it’s hard for me to take “low key” seriously as a guiding force in music.

  4. misterioso

    I don’t know, what I heard (the annoyingly precious “Stars” and portions of the others songs) did not really convey “big and pompous” to me so much as several different shades of twee.

  5. I left after three songs, but only because I needed to get up at about 5:45 AM. I did want to see more, specifically the front guy had only played piano, but in the sound check he had played a little wildly distorted guitar and I was woundering how thay would work that into their Police/Supertramp/Queen high singing 70s’ prog-pop. The singing was really good and the bass player was a knock out, but also contributing to the appeal was that unabashed enthusiasm that they brought to the bizarre melange of influences. I’m glad and sorry to hear that things turned out the way they did by the end of the set, glad because they deserved it for schelepping down from NYC to play a late set on a Thursday night at the North Star, and sorry cause I missed it.

  6. Ed, I can’t believe I didn’t see you there. Thanks for coming out. I agree w/ everything that’s been said. I was *very* impressed with their musical and vocal abilities. Supposedly the keyboardist has written a full-length musical too. Not my cup of tea per se, but they were great at what they do. And enthusiastic too

  7. Sorry I ducked you, man, but when I saw you, you were engaged in discussion with someone I didn’t feel like dealing with at the moment. Nice show yourself.

  8. Hey, that’s not a nice thing to say about Links Linkerson!

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