There is an implicit invitation that extends from a band to an audience. How a band chooses to invite the audience to participate varies from band to band and perhaps even from night to night. In spite of my exposure to them being relatively brief and that I am happily buying what they're selling, the revelation I'm writing about isn't as startling or historic as the one which made Jon Landau declare, "I've seen the future of rock and roll and his name is Bruce Springsteen." However, I have discovered a new musical obsession when I wasn't looking for one and its name is Visqueen.
Despite their unusual configuration — Rachel Flotard on guitar/vocals, Christina Bautista on bass and backing vocals, Barb Hunter on electric cello, and Barrett Martin filling in on drums for this tour — there is something instantly recognizable about their sound. The riffs are sturdy and familiar, but Flotard's gift for melody and the chemistry she and Bautista create with their harmonies help give rise to the songs, lifting them above the hordes of bands banging out power-pop cliches. I had never heard a note from Visqueen until seeing them perform a mini, intimate in-store set at Grimey's (the greatest music store in the universe) and later that night at The Basement. Before their set was over, I found myself singing and humming along at the back of the club. Their blend of hooks, harmonies, and attitude filled the room and there was more to spare.
At the center of those hooks and harmonies is Flotard. Visqueen's music is a careful balance that never feels premeditated or contrived. Flotard's songs have singer/songwriter earnestness but efficient riffs, anthemic choruses, and great harmonies that give the songs dynamic appeal. Some band leaders shrink from the spotlight, but not Flotard. Again, balance is key here. She is confident and comfortable bringing these songs before the audience but without any diva antics. Buoying her is the bouncing ball of energy that is Christina Bautista. Her bass work is understated but there is nothing understated about her voice and the way it perfectly complements Flotard.
The energy with which they played was propelled on this night in no small part by ex-Screaming Tree/Mad season drummer Martin. A decade spent exploring jazz and world-music terrains have not dulled his rock instincts. Sticks twirled and flew through the air as he methodically and mercilessly hammered away, injecting Visqueen's hook-laden songs with volume, both in terms of loudness and dimension. Songs like "Hand Me Down," "Janitor's Waltz," and "Tall Grass" are well-crafted enough to turn on an audience hearing them for the first time in a Nashville club and many of them are big enough for arena singalongs.
This is what live music can be about. Despite all the complicated marketing machinations of music labels and their downright corrupt shenanigans, a band armed with good songs and a little moxie can still win over a room and convert them to the cause. At the risk of sounding hopelessly naive, it's on a night like this I wonder what purpose labels actually serve. The less that comes between Visqueen and their audience, the better.