March 11, 2004

Live Report: HiM, w/Mice Parade and Mileece, Hailey's, Denton, TX, 2/10/04

This evening, I made a two-hour drive to see the mighty post-Tortoise institutions Mice Parade and HiM perform at the newly opened Hailey’s House of Blues. Hailey’s is so new that they didn’t even have a license to sell liquor at shows yet. My friend and I were wondering why so many people were bringing their own beer to the club, which might mean we’re a bit slow on the uptake (haha). Hailey’s looks and sounds wonderful, and it’s probably going to serve the same function in Denton that the Parish currently does in Austin.

The first act on the bill was Mileece, an English woman who is probably the closest thing that electronic music has to a female Markus Popp (of CD-skip pioneers Oval). She composes music on her laptop based on what she calls “the formations of nature,” and has even developed software that writes music through an algorithm based on the Fibonacci sequence. You don’t really need to know all of this to enjoy her music, though. Mileece’s songs sounded like symphonies played by an orchestra of emergency broadcast test tones. What could be clipped and abrasive, she renders pastoral and mellifluous through her strong grasp of melody, as well as her employment of vocals and field recordings to add an additional human touch. Of course, her set didn’t have much visual impact. It basically consisted of her pressing buttons on a laptop, sipping soda, and disappearing from sight for long periods of time. However, the quality of her music more than compensated for this.

Mice Parade, an outfit anagrammatically named after head honcho Adam Pierce, were much different than the last time I saw them. Almost two years ago, I saw them play live at Rubber Gloves. Most of that set consisted of long, funky jams built around Adam’s Chinese zither. The zither was nowhere to be found this time around. Adam’s instrument of choice for this set was the acoustic guitar, and the band as a whole shifted away from funk and closer toward light jazz. Mice Parade’s latest album Obrigado Saudade is basically an album-length expansion of the dreamier and breezier moments on their last record Mookondi. It seems as if Pierce put down the My Bloody Valentine and Stax records and started listening to more Caetano Veloso. It’s a different sound, but by no means is it a bad one. With the exception of a washboard-and-drums duet by Pierce and drummer Doug Scharin in the first half of the set, the jamming was also curtailed in favor of slightly diffuse vocal-based songs. Kristin from the Icelandic trio Mum joined the band on this tour to contribute vocals, accordion, and keyboards. Her tentative elfin cooing sounded much less irritating in this context that it does on Mum’s upcoming album, the depressing Summer Make Good, probably because it was counterbalanced by Adam’s flat, world-weary croon.

Like Mice Parade, I had seen HiM once before (at the Parish, back when it was called the Mercury), and they’ve also made slight changes to their sound since. HiM head honcho Doug Scharin has slightly shifted his focus from jazz and funk to dub and Afro-beat. The lineup was pared down (seven people instead of, like, a billion), and the solos and bass lines followed suit. Nowadays, HiM has an even stronger vocal presence than Mice Parade, with no less than three different people providing vocals. When they harmonized with each other, each vocalist was either a little bit flat or a little bit sharp, and it made the affair sound like a slightly tipsy Baptist church male chorus. This is a compliment, by the way; it especially worked well during the Sun Ra cover they played earlier in the set. Unlike Mice Parade, who only played two songs I recognized from their latest record, HiM turned almost every song on their latest full-length (which bears the near-clairvoyant title Many in High Places Are Not Well) into an epic odyssey. The lead guitarist’s solos weren’t as leaden and stilted as they were last time around, which is a definite improvement. Adam Pierce proved himself to be a jack of all trades during HiM’s set, switching from guitar to vibraphone to drums, often in the same song!

Overall, this was the most well-rounded show I’ve seen this year so far, and just another piece of evidence that Bubblecore (the New York label that Adam Pierce runs with his friends) is making its own pleasant little corner in the world of independent music. Did I also mention that Adam Pierce is the Swirlies’ current drummer? YOU KNOW ABOUT THE SWIRLIES, DON’T YOU? Okay, I’ll restrain myself…for now!

---Sean Padilla

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