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Last Night: Eisley at the Culture Room



Thursday, April 17, 2008

Culture Room

Better than: Taking three xanax and drinking a handle of Jack.

If you’re anywhere near exhausted, don’t even think about going to an Eisley show. This all-in-the-family Texas-born quintet (four sisters and their cousin, all with the last name DuPree) may produce some full and powerful female harmonies, but most of the time their alt-folk pop just sounds like rocked out and girly-ed up versions of sweet lullabies you sang as a child. After listening to the band live for more than 15 minutes, their dreamy vocalizations start to feel more like sonic sleeping pills, and less like the glowing melodies produced by similar artists like the Sundays or Sixpence None The Richer.

Eisley performed 19 selections from their two albums—2005’s Room Noises and 2007’s Combinations. The band opened their set with “Go Away” from Combinations, and continued with favorites like “Marvelous Things,” “I Wasn’t Prepared” and “Ten Cent Blues.” The performance ended with a quick encore of “A Sight To Behold” and “If You’re Wondering.” It was a well-rounded showcase of Eisley’s breezy and whimsical best, mixed with some decaffeinated grungy rock or light country twang. Like a fine-tuned machine, the band seamlessly, and rather mechanically, tore through their set with very little chatter or pauses.

One of the biggest downfalls with the live versions of the songs was that if you weren’t familiar with the tunes already, well, it was basically tough shit because the lyrics were so high-pitched and wail-driven that these girls could have been singing about anything from sea monsters to ex-boyfriends for all you could tell. (They actually sing about abstract things like mermaids, in addition to some real-life love and relationship drama.) Sometimes the songs really just seemed like one giant, cathartic chorus.

The sparse audience, equal parts guy and girl 18-and-unders, wearing dark-rimmed glasses, ballet flats, converse or skinny jeans, didn’t seem to mind playing the shoe-gazing role--meaning that their slightly bobbing heads were the only sign of extreme interest. In fact, the handful of fans (Perhaps the rest of the hipster crowd was still recovering from Spoon the night before.) in attendance hardly said a word to each other or the band. There were so few people at the show that it felt like Eisley had been hired out for our very own Super Sweet 16 party. Thanks Daddy! The fans loved every minute of this Lilith Fair-minded event. The band’s heartfelt and downright glorious harmonies were enough to make an atheist think twice about heaven, but after a while just appreciating the group’s talent alone grew tiresome, especially when their songs have so few rhythm and styles variations. Was this the melodramatic, misunderstood soundtrack to our own suicide? It could have been.

Feeling disconnected to the content of these fierce church-choir anthems made things less interesting, for sure. And, although, beautiful and cathartic, by about the sixth song, we kind of go the point of this. The point was that these girls are vocally gifted, but good entertainers they are not—at least not yet. Keeping things even remotely exciting was the obvious potential that this performance might climax into something more upbeat or uplifting. Alas, it was really just like watching the prettiest goodie-goodie girls at your high school in the talent show.

The three spotlighted DuPree sisters (Chauntelle, the Dixie Chicks-looking bombshell, Stacy, the homely brunette wearing a plaid button-down shirt and jeans, and Sherri, a Joan Jett emo-fied scenester) could have been great examples of enthusiasm and spirit—but instead, it seemed like they just did what they had to do to make this show happen. We don’t need a Britney routine, but at least make us believe you’re behind these emotive songs. Stacy honed her keys—appearing really forlorn, but for what, or who, or even why didn’t make a difference to us. Chauntelle sang along—usually stepping away from the mic to strum her guitar and sing to herself. If there had to be an American Idol winner of the bunch, it was Sherri, who has already paid her dues on the emo scene by backing up vocals for Bright Eyes and New Found Glory. Sherri vibrated with Christina Aguilera hand motions from time to time and seemed to actually enjoy this a bit. The boys (drummer Weston and bassist Garron) might as well have been Buddy Holly looking Ken doll robots, who played exactly what they were programmed and did little to incorporate their own flare into any of the music.

Overall, this unit was musically wonderful, but were seriously lacking in the department of entertainment and fun. The only personal dialogue we got between songs was a cutesy “thank you” (after every song) and a quick story about how they drank a disgusting wheat grass shot at Jamba Juice today. Oh yeah, and how this audience was the most awesome and so was Florida—lessons from their upcoming book, What to Say at Your Show for Dummies.

After their gig, the band stood in the parking lot to talk and take photos with fans. When asked about what they have planned for their next album, they seemed just as insipid as the performance they just finished. “[The album] will be full of cool jams,” piped in Garron, when the girls didn’t have much to say. Having just mentioned onstage that Florida has been their favorite state on tour so far, the band couldn’t even name one thing they had done here—not even the beach. Maybe a day at the beach would do these brooding indie-folk rockers some good.

Critic’s Notebook:

Personal Bias: It’s hard to connect to a band that sings mostly indecipherable songs live—unless you’re listening to Radiohead, that is.

Random Detail: Chauntelle was once engaged to Adam Lazzara, lead singer for Taking Back Sunday.

By the Way: Eisley partnered with the punk shoe brand Macbeth Athletics to design footwear that features artwork by Sherri.

--Monica Cady

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Jonathan Cunningham

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