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Live Review and Photos: Keep Shelly In Athens, November 18, 2011, Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY

It’s always a bit of an awkward situation when a venue sits so empty at the start of a band’s set that it feels like you’re the only one watching. This was certainly the case when Brooklyn’s ABADABAD took the stage last night at Bowery Ballroom. Though the lounge below showed signs of life, the concert hall itself had no more than a handful of people when the first notes were struck. It turned out to be quite a pity. Their brand of Pacific Northwest indebted guitar rock was pretty solid. “California Birds,” which Keep Shelly In Athens recently remixed for their Our Own Dream EP, was an obvious highlight. The only real complaint you could level against their sound is that it came across a bit same-y after a full set of similar sounding songs, but the set was just short enough that the boredom didn’t really have time to set in.

Body Language was up next, and their disco indebted dance music seemed to entirely satiate the gradually filling room. From the beginning, the smallish crowd that was gathered seemed geared to take off, but by the end of their set, the hall had filled much nearer to capacity and the entire front half of the room was driven to movement. Songs like “You Can” and much of their newer material left the crowd begging for more as they stripped their equipment from the stage. Their set certainly was an emotional high of the night, but the set that followed was so much more nuanced and tight.

There’s something about the last date of a tour that allows a band a certain looseness that they wouldn’t otherwise display, and Keep Shelly In Athens definitely showed that last night. Though they didn’t sway as much of the crowd as Body Language had–they drew mostly polite applause throughout the night–their take on 80s influenced dance music was so much less heavy handed than their support acts.

Though the song selection leaned heavily on the aforementioned Our Own Dream EP, even their cover of ABADABAD’s “California Birds” was played, it was material from last year’s In Love With Dusk that truly shined. They seemed more comfortable on runs through of tracks like “Running Out Of You,” which in its live setting had all the muscle of early Portishead. Actually, a lot of this early material took on that sort of feeling. The expansion of the mysterious duo of Sarah P. and R__ to a quartet, allows it room to breath and fill a room in ways that though present on the album aren’t as apparent. Even newer tracks like “Lazy Noon” seemed to mine similar emotional territory as early Portishead work. Sarah’s stage presence seems a natural descent from Beth Gibbons’ elegant cool, and her backing band was near as tight as Portishead ever was. They exuded a confidence and musical proficiency well beyond their years. Often acts that deal in the sample heavy arrangements that Keep Shelly In Athens take a while to come into their own as performers. A variety of hindrances often hold their sets back. Whether an inability to play with the tracks, an inability to make such playing interesting, or an inability to replicate the fullness of their recorded output, bands like this often suffer at this stage of their live career, but KSIA does nothing of the sort. The recorded tracks and synth parts serve to augment live guitar, drums, and vocals, much like Portishead always has.

This certainly isn’t to say that Keep Shelly In Athens is at this stage in their career the live behemoth that Portishead has become, but they show the promise that they’ll eventually get there. Though the 80s tinge on their earliest EP had them lumped in with the chillwave and Balearic pop movements, their live show is so much more rewarding than many bands in those trends have ever been. Though bands like Washed Out, Toro Y Moi, and Delorean are moving away from the sampler driven live shows that they’ve exhibited early on, they still aren’t quite exhibiting the muscle that KSIA does, at least in a live setting.

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