Live Picks! with Tony Porreco
Who: Bethany and the Guitar / Young Summer / Owen Danoff
What: EP Release Show at IOTA
When: Friday May 3 / 8:30 p.m.
Song You Must Hear Today: “Trainwreck”
I first saw Bethany and the Guitar in the fall of 2011 at the annual H Street Festival in Northeast. It was an accident. I wasn’t really even into the local music scene at that point, that day I was just shoving barbecue into my face and killing time before Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! at the 9:30 Club that evening. I don’t remember exactly what their lineup was, but I don’t really need to talk about their music: It was acoustic. It was female-fronted. A drum kit was eschewed in favor of a cajon. There was some kind of short scale guitar involved. (Maybe a baritone ukulele?) All in all, it was kind of twee.
You read that word. And you might have rolled your eyes. You might have gotten annoyed. But hey, I like twee. I like cute. There was a sweetness to their act I wasn’t expecting to run into that day, and accordingly, I remembered them.
I’ve kept tabs on Bethany and the Guitar every now and again since then, just to make sure they still exist, and I was delighted to find when browsing IOTA’s calendar that they’re headlining an EP release show there this Friday. It also turns out the new EP (entitled Songs for the Road) is already on Spotify. (I was pleased to discover this so I didn’t have to hassle them for an advance copy in writing this piece.)
A review of their previous release, 2011’s Sparrow reveals that there are actually a couple different sides to Bethany and the Guitar. There’s the previously described indie pop angle with its unusual percussion (e.g. steel drums, handclaps [SO MANY HANDCLAPS]), but also a pop-country angle that made up about half the album’s songs that I admittedly didn’t care for as much.
The new EP leans more toward more toward the latter, but this time around, the songs are stronger, and feature some really excellent arrangements and production. This is most evidenced by “Free”, which I could play for my tween Taylor Swift-obsessed cousin without objection, with the added bonus of being able to show her just how awesome fuzz bass is.
“Trainwreck”, the EP’s opener and standout track begins with a reverbed banjo. Given Bethany and the Guitar’s both indie pop and country leanings, it’s sort of the perfect instrument for them to employ in some capacity, as it swings both ways, genre-wise. The song features considerably more muscle and sheer momentum than previous offerings from the band, and includes some great piano and violin touches before the fantastic pop explosion at the 2:36 mark.
Perhaps my favorite element of are the wordless backup vocals that grace four of the EP’s five songs, with the only track without lacking being the out-of-leftfield cover of Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead”, which transforms the tune into a cheery indie pop hoedown.
I am beyond excited for this show also on account of the bill’s supporting acts. Young Summer’s “Fever Dream” might be my favorite track released by a DC artist so far in 2013 (sounds like Beach House after Victoria Legrand drank one too many cups of coffee), and I will conclude with some facts about opener Owen Danoff in list form:
(a.) His music is frequently charming (see “Never Been Kissed” from his 2013 The Strathmore Sessions).
(b.) We went to the same high school.
(c.) His dad Bill was in Starland Vocal Band (“Afternoon Delight”), and my bandmate took music classes from him at Georgetown University.
It’s gonna be a fun night; Imma see you there!