Concert Review: The Postmarks and John Ralston at Propaganda, July 10

The Postmarks' spiffy new promo shot
The Postmarks
With John Ralston and Raffa and Rainer
Propaganda, Lake Worth
Friday, July 10, 2009

Better Than:
Gorging oneself on a smorgasbord of the best homemade recipes.

The Review:

In the handful of months the Lake Worth indie rock spot Propaganda has existed, local booking/promoting guru Steve Rullman has done a remarkable job luring cutting - edge regional and national acts to the small but vital club. This last Friday evening, Rullman seriously outdid himself, culling a lineup of what could be, arguably, the finest talent South Florida has to offer.

Miami's endearing folkie duo Raffa and Rainer were first on tap, and the two were clearly appreciative to be on the same bill as the nationally touring Ralston and Postmarks. The duo played a sincere set of irreverent, tin pan alley-sounding tunes, with Davies on electric guitar and Harris on acoustic. Their slot culminated with Harris singing, "You can be true, you can be my life," as guitarist Rainer Davies played flamenco-style interludes. Raffa Jo Harris' vintage, sepia- tinged vocals are always a delight -- girl's got some seriously luxurious pipes. 

Bushy-bearded Lake Worth hero John Ralston took the stage next, promising material from a soon-to-be released new effort being recorded in New Orleans. But he also welcomed audience suggestions: "If you want to hear old stuff too, just shout it out!"

Instead of the textured sound most would expect to hear from Ralston, he took the stage with only his electric guitar, unveiling stripped-down, vulnerable renditions of songs from his past, present, and future.  The top of the set began with a string of new, lovelorn ditties ("Bottom of Everything," "Gas and Matches," and "Bedroom Walls") that demonstrated that Ralson has embraced his emotive singer-songwriter troubadour side.

Later on, one audience member did take Ralston up on his introductory offer, shouting for "Gone, Gone, Gone," the superb standout from his debut album, Needle Bed. "Fuck me man," he responded -- he claimed he didn't have the right guitar, but still acquiesced. Ralston lost his timing halfway though this one and had to stop, but that only added to the intimate, in- your-living room feel of the performance.

Then came a couple more numbers from his back catalog. "White Spiders," a dissonant, David Bowie-esque track from the EP of the same name, was turned into a hazy, coffee house stir-up. "I Guess I Wasted My Summer Now," from Ralston's sophomore album, Sorry Vampire, was a chord-jangler that had everyone charmed.  Overall, it was probably not the best performance of Ralston's career, but it was still spot-on for the cozy, friends-and-family mood of Propaganda this evening.

After the chic promo pictures of the Postmarks that circulated on the web recently, it was comforting to see the band, who performs as a quintet, take the stage looking as a casual as ever. Lead vocalist Tim Yehezkely was in straight-up beach attire -- sandals, shorts and a cut-off tee; Rolling Stone praise and Lollapalooza performances apparently haven't swollen these musicians' egos.

Similar to Ralston, the Postmarks' lead guitarist, Christopher Moll, also guaranteed a set filled with new material from the band's forthcoming LP, Memoirs at the End of the World. (It's due out August 25.) Moll did not, however, warn the crowd about the complete overhaul of the Postmarks' old orchestral indie-pop sound.

The first indication that the cinematic fairy tales were over was the ominous "For Better... or Worse?" that saw Moll pounding out some uniquely jarring riffs. "My Lucky Charm," yet another gritty number, had Yehezekely pounding the tambourine on her Twiggy-like figure, like a berserk Hare Krishna. "Go Jetsetter" did bring back a hint of the Postmarks' old mellifluousness, with keyboardist Jeff Wagner executing some dulcet Theremin-sounding notes. "Don't Know Till You Try It" was a slithery, spooky tune with a fantastic backbeat that overtook Yehezkely's whispy vocals.

The new material was first-rate, no question, but nothing played on Friday night was as satisfying as the well executed-covers presented from the Postmarks 2008 album, By the Numbers. The high-velocity version of Ride's "OX4" was definitely one of the sonic highlights on the evening. Likewise "Nine Million Rainy Days," a Jesus and Mary Chain cover that featured drummer Jonathan Wilkins' snare frenzy, was an upbeat shaker that had the audience ricocheting against each other. It was hard to believe that all this shoegazing was occurring at a gig from a band that once idolized Burt Bacharach.

The Postmarks provided a surprisingly uptempo culmination to this evening of South Florida's melancholic rock all-stars. Those lucky enough to be in attendance at the tiny Propaganda club were witness to the brilliance that can be created on our sunny shores.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I'm admittedly addicted to Anglo- and Francophile tunes, especially when they are produced by Floridians!  

Random Detail: Spotting emo king Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional fame at a Ralston local performance is not a rare occurrence.

By The Way: It would be worth the trek north to catch the Postmarks play with Peter, Bjorn, and John at the Social in Orlando on September 3.

-- Alex Rendon

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