Mike Kinsella is curious. “Anyone go to church here?” he asks. A second of silence echoes through the Irenic, and Kinsella begins. Blending a simple acoustic melody punctuated with sharp lyrics starkly crafted and steeped in nostalgia, Kinsella, playing third in the lineup, opens his set with “Breaking Away,” a quintessential track that beats steady with the heart of the evening: history.
Gathered to worship an era past, Kinsella, the solo voice behind the band Owen and a seminal participant in formative ‘90s emo outfits such as Cap‘n Jazz, American Football and Joan of Arc (to name a few), sits. Positioned center-stage in the dimly lit room, Kinsella plays on, a patron saint of sorts, both to revisionists of the genre and to those gathered before him to pay it homage.
Though the small crowd spanning the room may be strangers to the North Park venue on Sundays, on this Thursday night, it is clear they are at home.
The night begins with SD natives Weatherbox followed by trio of L.A. rockers TS & the Past Haunts (which includes Travis Shettel, former ringleader of Boston rockers Piebald). Both bands play pulsating sets that warm the room, but they are volatile at best, lacking the subliminal equation that formulates relevancy: authenticity and accessibility.
Becoming definitive is no easy feat, but Kinsella, as joined by Braid, the headliners of the evening and fellow pioneers of the ‘90s Midwest scene, remains immortalized among a generation of indie-rock purists for a rare quality that has kept them from becoming past tense: honesty.
The hallmark of both their instrumentation and lyrical litanies that read stream-of-consciousness-style like a 10th grader’s diary is that both can connote the atmospheric angst of a high school reunion. And at the Irenic? In a metaphoric sense, maybe it is.
Braid are reunited and back on tour to revisit their final and iconic 1998 album, Frame and Canvas, which came out before ‘emo’ evolved into the equivalent of what Justin Bieber is to the rap game.
Formative among the batch of bands that still remain the Lewis and Clark of 1990’s musical landscape, Champaign-Urbana, Ill.'s Braid, composed of original members Todd Bell (bass), Chris Broach (vocals/guitar), Bob Nanna (vocals/guitar) and newer member Damon Atkinson (drums), play with the sort of kinetic, intuitive chemistry born from a shared history. The band members compliment one another with a meld of high- and low-pitched harmonies, aggressive shouts and static percussion set against their signature complex but infectious pop riffs.
Embodying orchestration thick with swerving math-rock rhythmic complexity, Braid takes stage and begins with the opening track from the album The New Nathan Detroits. Launching into a sonic adventure as rollercoaster as the emotional architecture Frame and Canvas outlines, Braid, as promised, spans the entire album from top to bottom, driving fast with slow, jagged guitar attacks, catchy, pure chords and a mesmeric maze of circular instrumentation.
But the ornate swerve of Braid’s twisting, melodic hooks doesn’t stop the three generations composing the crowd from keeping up where it counts. From the opening track, through album middle mark “Collect From Clark Kent,” to the slow burn of closing track “I Keep A Diary,” a group sing-along carries on.
And when the album ends? The show goes on, as the concluding melody morphs into the classic opening riff of the Smiths’ “This Charming Man,” extending into an encore set of perennial Braid fan favorites, then drawing to a close with the punctuating chords of “The Chandelier Swing.” Braid exits into a crowd chanting their name as if welcoming them home.