Modern Kin, the new-but-not-really-new indie rock trio, spent much of this past weekend onstage. On one stage in particular: the one situated inside Mississippi Studios in their hometown of Portland, Oregon.
The group was celebrating the release of its debut self-titled LP with what was being billed as a "world tour." How do you travel the globe by staying in one place, however? Surround your stage with cameras, and stream your performances on YouTube.
Modern Kin did just that over two days, broadcasting seven individual sets online, each one scheduled to correspond with 10 p.m. local time in seven different time zones. If that meant playing a half-dozen songs at 6 a.m. PT for fans in Tokyo and Seoul, so be it. Sleep deprivation is a small price to pay for some self-promotion.
There's something to be said for trying a stunt like this to grab people's already shrunken attention spans. It's reminiscent of the Flaming Lips' recent efforts to play as many shows as possible in 24 hours or the National performing one song for six hours straight. But it's also a reflection of Modern Kin embracing the first word in its name.
This band was formed from the ashes of a bombastic, but often unfocused, outfit known as Drew Grow and the Pastors' Wives. The core trio -- singer/guitarist Grow, bassist Kris Doty, and drummer Jeremiah Hayden -- were all members of that group, but approach this incarnation with renewed purpose.
A shambolic haziness has been replaced with razor-sharp rock (check out the Oh Sees-inspired "Barnburner"), touches of electronic weirdness, and an almost worship music-like love of grand, arms akimbo choruses. The party line points to Arcade Fire as Modern Kin's chief influence, but these ears hear everything from the fractured blues of the Gun Club to Britpop dynamos Doves within their debut album's 12 tracks.
The hope was to find an unusual way to present this new sound to the public. At first, the idea was to do a Google Hangout/live set. That idea morphed into an attempt to play a weeklong series of live-streamed shows, and then finally this wonderfully wonky way of connecting with a potentially international audience.
It's impressive enough that they pulled it off with few hiccups (the first set on Friday at 7 p.m. PT was delayed slightly as the tech teams struggled to get the YouTube linkup working). That the band showed only a little bit of fraying around the edges of their performances was downright revelatory. During the final show (at 2 p.m. PT, Saturday), you could hear the band loosening up as the realization that it would all be over soon set in.
Every other set was stitched up tightly. Bandleader Grow and his bassist foil Kris Doty never let their voices slack throughout -- a minor miracle considering how much these songs rely on their rafter-rattling wails. They poured copious amounts of charm and energy into each set, even during early morning hours when live music of this volume should not be happening.
What the event offered for someone like me, the only person outside the band and the technical staff there for all seven sets, was a chance to really dig into these new songs in a way that I'm often unable to because of deadlines, family, etc.
For the most part, the material stood up under close scrutiny and multiple listens, especially the songs where Modern Kin embraced discordance, the intrusions of a primitive synthesizer that Hayden used to eke out tinny squelches, and unusual rhythmic turns. And every time the band circled back around to the album's lead track and single "Abandon," the air in the room felt lighter and more delirium-inducing. Grow and Doty's tightly wound harmonies can do that to a person. The tracks that leaned back a little too comfortably on Fleet Foxes-styled folk or a drowsier spirit didn't fare as well upon repeat listens.
After hearing the same songs played in various permutations for a total of three hours, I will admit that my recollection of the weekend has become a bit blurry. What does cut through the fog are little moments: Quasi/Wild Flag's Janet Weiss (Grow's paramour and the producer of Modern Kin) tuning Hayden's kit with a palpable air of frustration about her, Doty's different outfits, Hayden playing with one hand while holding a bacon-maple donut in the other, and the sheer surprise that 10 people would drag themselves to Mississippi Studios at 6 a.m. for live music.
What was never really talked about was whether this whole crazy affair was a successful one. No one would talk about numbers of viewers, and even Hayden told me he didn't want to know. He probably made the right choice. For a band that is, by and large, just starting out, getting even one viewer would be a coup. But it's best to not set yourself up for disappointment by learning nobody was there to hear your musical tree fall.