It is fitting that the Dutch would be the first Europeans to colonize Hoboken, considering that the bulk of this one-mile square town is under sea level. Practically an extension of Manhattan, Hoboken is typically known for once having been part of the textile center of the northeastern United States, now a mecca of young urban professionals and hipsters, but then and now a ditch that often gets flooded in many areas when it rains. Hoboken is anything other than the New Jersey stereotypes: funny accents, strip malls, big hair, and Lee Press on Nails. In actuality, Hoboken has for years been a hub of cultural and social diversity and a great destination for noteworthy music. A few weeks ago, I came across Tiny Victories’ “Mr. Bones 7”” – a two-track collection; I was instantly smitten – but had no expectations to see them live any time soon. Then my brother invited me along to one of his haunts, The Loft in Hoboken, to see them perform this past Friday (30 September 2011). I admitted ignorance: I had never heard of this place … and it turned out to be a great night.
Though I may be off base, it seems that one must receive an invitation in order to see any performance at The Loft. Obviously, it was once a living room (and probably dubs as such during the day), but there is a welcoming feel to the place, as a nice sized crowd was slumped over coaches, standing in small groups, and parading about. As I stood there with my brother, I looked around and said, “This is definitely not Brooklyn.” I really do love Brooklyn, but recently there is a sense of elitism that has pervaded the music scene (especially the audiences) that I really do not care for; this audience was truly Jersey: fun loving, partying, relaxed, and welcoming. If you plan to call this place a hipster hangout, you best qualify that by saying these are not yesterday’s hipsters … this is a new breed. As for the actual space, I think it may just now be my favorite small venue to catch a live act in Jersey. (How do I get on that invite list now?)
The start time of the show was more than slightly pushed back … perhaps the bad weather (which put me in the mood to listen to OMD’s classic, “Crush”), but the band took the stage a little after 11. The band is composed of Cason Kelly (drums, electronic percussions, and background vocals) and Greg Walters (lead vocals and samplers). Having real drums for most of the set is an advantage for electronic bands… nothing can replicate the feel of real drums on a stage. But even when deferring to complete electronics, the band's music is infectious enough to get the crowd going; even Walters noted how animated the crowd was during the set.
(Tiny Victories' "Mr Bones 7"" cover)
Let’s start with the two tracks from the “Mr. Bones 7”” – both of them translated amazingly in live performance. Bands that rely heavily on electronic equipment have to worry about their music falling flat live – the experience of blasting music loud at home or a club is very distinct than that of a live performance. And electronic bands run the risk of sounding exactly the same live as they do in recordings – the quality of the worse electronics acts. Not the case with Tiny Victories. There is a David Byrne quality to their music – no, they sound nothing like The Talking Heads, but they definitely approach putting their music together in the same way as Byrne when he is being a bit more experimental (whether intentional or not). “Mr. Bones” has a faux-ostinato (faux, as it does not add to the rhythm nor melody, but sounds great in the background) that creates a nice wall of sound. Then there is “Lost Weekend.” The opening line is, “Send me a postcard from the edge of your mind…” and I am sure there are a ton of other musicians who would be envious that they were not the ones to first state the obviously blatant first! And that is the thing about the lyrics here: like many acts that I enjoy lyrically, there is a brash poetic honesty and obviousness that makes the words compelling. From the organ to the thriving beat, the ostinato, and the haunting lyrics, this song instantly reminded me of the avant garde 80s and even the late 80s when pre-dance punk bands (like Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and Meat Beat Manifesto) were coming of age: though part of a larger electronic trend at the moment, there is the potential to start something new here.
(Tiny Victories: Cason Kelly and Greg Walters)
As performers, Tiny Victories really engaged the audience. On two occasions they sampled the audience (once just a handclap used as part of the percussion arrangement, and the second time the words “Happy Birthday Sappy” and looped it various time – at least I think it was “Sappy” or maybe “Saffy,” regardless she was ecstatically dancing the song away). But at the end of it all, this was about the music – The Loft is well lit, with no shadows to hide behind and no light show or LCD screens to flash about in fancy patterns. When you perform here, it is about the music. And for an audience to be completely enthralled in a set of music that was largely unreleased material and unknown to the audience says something about both the space and the band.
The Loft isn’t set up to be some trendy place for bands to roll around into and use gimmickry or hide behind the reputation of their moniker. I would like to imagine that the space was intentionally set up for bands that have something to prove as performers, as the focus will solely be the music and not any flashy visuals. And as for the audience, perhaps regulars at the venue, they are music lovers. Even during the DJ set before the band’s performance, their reactions to the music really demonstrated their passion (though I really could have done without the Weezer in the DJ set).
And Tiny Victories have both the songwriting and performance chops to get on a bare stage and enchant an audience. The only complaint you may have is that the set was too short, but as this nascent band grows and composes even more music, their set is only going to become more dynamic. (Remember quality is more important than quantity, and I rather a short tight set than a long, monotonous one.) I have to disclose the fact that I had the chance to speak with Greg Walters and was impressed with his lack of façade or elitism (that is, as I said above, so prevalent in the Brooklyn music scene these days, which the band hails from). As the band shops around for a label and makes plan to record a full length or an EP, this set says everything you need to know about them. Artistic, but accessible, powerful, but alluring … not an experience you want to miss.
(Not only do I have to thank my brother for inviting me along, I have to thank him for taking these pictures for me on his iPhone, as my camera’s battery was dead.)
1. Untitled new song
2. Lost Weekend
5. I Get Uppa (Amazing Ghost cover)
6. Get Lost
7. Mr. Bones
8. Austin, TX (encore)
Keep up with Tiny Victories at their MySpace and Facebook. Head over to their Bandcamp page where you can preview and download the “Mr. Bones 7”.” The band will be performing throughout the month of October in the NYC area, including the CMJ Music Marathon.
Keep up with The Loft at their homepage, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.