• Live Reviews

Sharpless at Township on May 11, 2014

written by: on May 13, 2014

Sunday night may have been a rainy one, but the weather served to reinforce the notion that the audience present at Township was one of quality rather than quantity. Though the venue was at around one-forth of its capacity, the palpable fanfare brought forth by Sharpless served to fill the rest of the room— by the end of the night, more than a few people’s eyes had watered, and not because of the rain.

And, this time around, it was more than the band’s select breed of emotional pop (or “violent pop” if you ask them) that made the lips quiver of friends and strangers alike. Jack Greenleaf—the mind behind the music, having since graduated from Columbia College Chicago—will be soon returning to his point of origin in Brooklyn, bringing his project with him. So although the event did not commemorate the end of Sharpless, per se, it did signify the end of a meaningful period of expression for a lot of people present, both onstage and off.

But before any of that could happen, some preliminary housekeeping was in order. Annie Girl & the Flight, on tour from San Francisco, got a few feet casually tapping as they provided a paradoxically cool warm-up set. A shoeless, guitar-pick-less bassist held a steady foundation as Annie Girl strummed on her red semi-hollow telecaster, cooing lullabies into the microphone. To her right, the band’s lead shoegazer seemed to view his guitar less as a musical instrument and more as a tool for divination; each note called forth transcendent vagitus.

But despite the band’s best efforts, and perhaps in part due to an on-stage tuning mishap or its general unfamiliarity, Annie Girl & the Flight failed to truly take off. It was Yeesh, Chicago power trio and crowd favorite, that found momentum. The three boys provided a sort of cerebral post-hardcore that—though undeserving of such an awful cliché— played by its own rules. The guitar riffs were ambitious, the drum fills were finely tuned, and the entire set was delightfully conducive to head bobbing.

The stunted performance of Boston’s Harmoos then came as the penultimate act; another foreign entity, though arguably more suited for the occasion in terms of genre. Sound and performance, however, were an entirely different matter—the pubescent, crinkly vocals may have been endearing at first, but the novelty was quick to wear thin. And despite the appearance of a trombone in several songs (the large, awkward brass vessel at least fit the band motif), Harmoos had trouble keeping attention. The three members were, admittedly, nothing if not happy to be there.

But there was no chance of anyone leaving– not with the headliner in sight. In fact, it seemed as though no one took the opportunity for a cigarette break or drink refill; as all five members set up, the crowd hugged closer to the tiny stage.

Sharpless is the kind of band that, when performing live, makes everyone within a lengthy radius feel compelled to drop everything and just observe, no matter how dim the lights or cheap the drinks. They are a band for whom giving less than 100 percent onstage is more than unthinkable—from the looks of it, the concept of slacking off during a set very likely never even occurred to them. To say they had fun up there would be an understatement bordering on vulgarity, as it would downplay the intense amount of orchestration involved, as fueled by mutual passion and the appreciative camaraderie found at the foot of the stage.

Each member of the now-defunct quintet contributed something unique and dynamic to the experience, both visually and audibly. Greenleaf— vocalist, guitarist, and the clear ringmaster at work—is likely still massaging his cheek muscles, as it took every ounce of eye-bulging, vein-popping energy he had to convey his lyrics in a way that matched their intensity. The rest of his ensemble supported him in the task, save for drummer Ian Cory who was too busy shredding/sweating in the back to contribute supporting vocals. Bassist Jack Ferencz and guitarist Montana Levy flanked stage right, the latter of whom will be returning to Brooklyn this summer as well. Lastly, the steadfast Daniel Ott provided electronic accoutrement, switching between synth keyboard melodies and vocal chorusing while remaining on MacBook duty to give the extra Sharpless “oomph” (famous for drawing J-Pop comparisons online) that was unfortunately not properly conveyed via the Township sound system.

After a brief appearance by formative ex-members Aaron Sheehan and Dave Collis (on bass and guitar/drums, respectively) to play some earlier numbers, the group called it a night. But not after ending with the thoroughly meditative “(+<)” (pronounced “Sharpless”), a song about movement of all kinds, and the contemplative singularity that goes along with it. Even to those unfamiliar with its subject matter, the song proved to be a fitting coda—on not only the show, but the project’s Chicago manifestation. The weather had cleared once the venue began to empty, and it’s a safe bet that Greenleaf’s words of longing and loneliness would be there to fill the void for time to come.

Featured image by Richard Gin