The sheer number of instruments that graced the undersized stage of The Record Bar, in Kansas City, on Sunday night was enough to fill the pit of a small orchestra. In fact, as the doors were opening, it was feasible that there were more instruments on stage than there were members of the audience. Luckily, this was a fleeting reality and the night commenced with a decent turnout for what ended up being a lovely, if somewhat somber evening with Other Lives.
Influenced by innumerous genres and periods of music, this five piece band oozed classical and traditional American undertones while still dabbling with progressive sensibilities. It is no understatement that more room was allotted on stage for their gear than for themselves. This near-excess was all the more shocking though because all of these various sounds were consistently utilized, not merely for a single song, but throughout the entire set.
With most bands it’s easy enough to list off the member in conjunction with their role, i.e. bass player, drummer, lead vocals and so on. With Other Lives, however, these musicians swapped instruments so often that classifying them to one sound is almost unfair. Jenny Hsu most consistently shifted between her cello and piano, while lead vocalist Jesse Tabish spent the evening rotating his keyboard with a couple guitars. Jonathon Mooney and Josh Onstott are the most challenging to define. Mooney switched between devices so frequently that I oftentimes caught him holding his violin with one hand while simultaneously tooting a few notes on his trumpet. Onstott was even more difficult to place; he spent his time on stage tucked into a corner mostly rotating between various percussions, including a few that I couldn’t even name. Even the primary drummer, Colby Owens, had a clarinet hiding behind his bass drum, which I believe he snuck a few notes on when he thought no one was looking. Tabish’s vocals complemented this multitude of sounds perfectly, adding a final solemn tone to the mix.
This juggling act was ultimately their greatest strength as well as their downfall. While it created a sound that melded and filled the room with an ethereal sadness, having so much on stage made them appear unnatural and claustrophobic. The majority of the crowd remained seated and while most appeared contemplative and tranquil throughout the set, others looked a bit bored. This music is quite lovely and easy to get lost in, but the band appeared to get lost in their sound as well and so much focus was placed on what they were doing that the joy of performance almost dissolved in the shuffled. I oftentimes wondered if they even knew that there was an audience at all. I counted only three or four times when Tabish actually looked towards the crowd and beyond a couple “thank you’s,” few words were uttered from one song to the next. While this isn’t necessarily a criticism, it should be noted that this is not a band that evokes a powerful stage presence and commands attention. If you are content to calmly listen to an hours’ worth of interesting melodies then you will enjoy their show, if you are looking to be entertained then disappointment may be headed your way.
Unfortunately I did occasionally find myself too lost. Each piece had such a similar tone and after only a few days I am already struggling to differentiate one from the next. While I enjoyed the entirety of the show, there was no real contrast between numbers. It is a known fact that variety is the spice of life and while each piece was beautiful only so much contemplative sadness can be embraced for one evening. That being said by the conclusion of the show I felt more hope for the band than frustration. Their talent is undeniable and I was consistently impressed, even when I found myself looking at the time. This may be a band that has room to grow, but one that without question, will. I look forward to seeing them again and hopefully, next time they’ll even put a couple instruments down and notice that there are people past the lights illuminating the stage.
By Erin Tuttle
Photos By Rebecca Armstrong