Local and Touring Talent Touch Five Points with Class

by Drew Bond
The lineup was Katie Grace Helow, Antique Animals, Helado Negro, and Junip. The venue was the Five Points Theatre. The large audience was excited and in the mood for a good time. I stood to the side, my Moleskine open and my pen in hand, pondering my first assignment as a music journalist. Right on time, local artist Katie Grace Helow and her band took to the floor in front of the stage.
In my years of watching and listening to Katie, this was the first time I’d seen her with a band. The band, resolute and warm, was clearly rehearsed. I expected nothing less from the talented and soulful Katie, as she was backed up by a steady, classic sound that complimented her songwriting, and didn’t clutter it with showy playing. The overall performance of the band was understated, yet every member in it was given a moment to shine, as they effortlessly worked their way through folksy songs, flowing between soft and loud dynamics with a certain grace. Katie sang her somewhat brooding and minor toned work with precision and heart, with adequate backups provided by her lead guitarist. There was a true intimacy about their set, with audible shuffling from the band members and a soughing sound from the audience in between songs. My only complaint is that the band’s placement on the floor instead of the stage made for an awkward barrier between artist and audience, as the audience seemed unsure about how close to get to the artist. Get close, people.
I was impressed by the professionalism of the venue and the artists in moving the show along with quickness and efficiency. As soon as Katie Grace Helow was finishing, local Americana artists, Antique Animals, were taking her place on the floor. Antique Animals opened their set with a foot stomping crowd-pleaser, their ramped up energy proving them a welcome second act. They had a loose, happy feeling, as two of their front members spit boisterous melodies into a shared microphone. Their ensemble of cello, upright bass, acoustic guitar, and occasional fluid rivers of organ made the whole experience an earthy slide into the heart of blues, soul, and folk. Their sound seemed to emanate from them effortlessly, as if it were meant to be, and their front man, Joe Shuck, unpretentiously and coolly assumed the role of American roots music perpetrator. Both Katie Grace Helow and Antique Animals reaffirmed the notion that in 2011, a solidly formed “rock” band can still delight if they are interesting and well rehearsed.
The script flipped when Helado Negro, a solo artist who sings invitingly in Spanish, took the stage. A good portion of the crowd moved onto the floor in front of him. The theatre took on more of a club vibe, as Helado Negro expertly tweaked dials and buttons, much like a DJ, channeling the field recordings, beats, and samples that make up his bright and bubbly blend of Latin and dance music. This is potentially a different popularization of Latin music in the states than we have seen of late, with the likes of guitar virtuosos, Rodrigo y Gabriella. With their music, the audience knows when to applaud, because the dynamic shifts are blatantly apparent. With Helado Negro, there are no shredding riffs, but there are new types of rises and falls, tensions and releases in the music that make it exciting. He had a giant screen projecting images behind him, about which I heard remarks like, “I love that color, there,” making his set a complete sensory experience. My gripe with his set is that I would have liked to have seen more people on stage with him creating the sounds I was hearing, as I am still very much a fan of the human physicality a band can display. Also, it would’ve been cool to see more people in the audience moving freely and unworriedly to his music.
The headlining act, Junip, were greeted with cheers as they took the stage. The low, subby opening set up a sort of hip hop vibe right away, as the audience thickened on the floor and bobbed their heads. Junip had an instantly recognizable pop sensibility and maturity in vision, with a deft blending of traditional songwriting and electronic ambiance, which had a hypnotizing effect. Their minimalist, groove oriented music filled the venue with waves of steady, natural sound that obviously won the crowd over. Their drummer had extraordinary focus and their alternate percussionist added a certain whimsy to their performance. In the end, it was 2 to 4 chord pop, but technology has breathed new life into the timbres and transitions between those chords, and Junip yields that technology and their knowledge of music with a concentrated power. Gripe? If there is one, perhaps it’s that the bravado of “rock” music seems to have been replaced almost entirely by a more gentle, sensitive aura. The absence of an edge, some grit, some dirt, can leave one wanting. All in all it was a surprisingly impressive, even magical, night for local and touring music.