With songs as sweeping and broad as the plains that they call home, Stillwater, Oklahoma-based Other Lives brought their densely orchestrated, dark pop to New York City recently and presented a grand, yet focused ambiance in a precisely executed performance. The show was part of their U.S. tour, which ends on December 8 in Chicago.
Indians, a one man outfit hailing from Copenhagen, eased the crown into the evening. His set ranged from ambient electronic pop to stripped-down acoustic songs and ended with a series of danceable, yet melancholic songs. The piano-driven melodies served as a perfect introduction to Other Lives and thanks to Indians’ bank of keyboards, range of pedals and floating vocals, it created a sound far bigger than the solo artist alone.
After a short break a blast of trumpet and a flicker of light from old-fashioned globe bulbs announced the arrival of Other Lives. The quintet began their set with a roll of the kettledrum and built suspense and sonic texture on “Dark Horse” from 2011’s Tamer Animals. The sense of drama and impending doom continued through the second song of the set, “As I Lay My Head Down.” During each song, all band members seamlessly transitioned between multiple instruments; cellist and vocalist Jenny Hsu even punctuated the chorus of “As I Lay My Head Down” with castanets.
While the crowd spent the first part of the set in quiet reverence, they began to warm up on the lushly rendered “Landforms.” The band, however, maintained a humble presence. As they performed a flawless breakdown that highlighted Hsu’s playing, followed by a crescendo and a cascade of feedback and reverb, the music seemed to come from a place beyond the five of them—as if the band was simply conduits for a other worldly sound.
As they transitioned into “Great Sky,” a bluegrass-inflected ballad, the band stayed focused, watching each other carefully and playing each part with confidence and trust.
Mid-set, Other Lives seamlessly launched into “Tamer Animals,” the title track of their 2011 album and pulled it off perfectly. Their performance blended vocals, strings and a range of percussion, including bells affixed to a pair of antlers that were again played by Hsu.
After “Tamer Animals,” Other Lives seemed to relax a little bit, and introduced a new song that was dancier and more synth-driven than their others and featured vocal interplay between Hsu and lead singer Jesse Tabish.
Towards the end of the set the band was joined on stage by the Empire Horns for “Dustbowl,” during which guitarist Jon Mooney played his guitar with a bow and Tabish’s lyrics invoked the drama of prairie history and recalled the yearning and search of classic American folk songs.
Tabish performed “Black Tables” from the band’s self-titled 2009 release alone to a rapt crowd. When he finished he modestly stepped away from the keyboard and waved shyly to the audience as he waited for the band to saunter back on stage. “Will you guys try to time that a little better when I end the song?” he asked jokingly.
While Other Lives’ songs recall dustbowl wanderers, their travels as a band have a more hopeful tone. At the close of their set smiling bashfully, Tabish thanked the audience and said, “We need this show as a band; it is so meaningful to us to feel your vibe. We’ve been traveling so much, bands need that positive energy.”
Catch Other Lives on tour:
12/6/12 – St. Louis, MO Off Broadway
12/7/12 – Chicago, IL Schubas
12/8/12 – Chicago, IL Lincoln Hall