Copeland | 05.16.15

live CopelandYou get caught up watching something odd and unexpected, only to get knocked silly by the haymaker that gets thrown with the obscured hand.

live Copeland_500

The Ready Room, St. Louis

These are strange times in the world of indie rock. Most of the bands I loved when the genre was at its peak leaned more on the rock side of the spectrum, but evolved from their quasi-emo origins to become unique entities. Major labels encroached, sounds evolved, and many went their separate ways for a variety of reasons, most of them amicable. Of all the acts I found myself taken by, no single band proved to grow as intoxicating with each release as Copeland. Over the course of five years, they released four albums, each moving a step closer to some unknown destination that was always a step ahead of my sensibilities. By the time their presumed swan song, “You Are My Sunshine,” was released, Copeland had lapped their contemporaries and delivered what I consider a perfect album. I could scarcely see them topping that album, and perhaps they felt the same way, because after touring the release, they announced an indefinite hiatus, the end of the band for the foreseeable future.

The band, minus vocalist/guitarist/pianist/songwriter Aaron Marsh, partnered with Mindy White (formerly of Lydia) to form States and release an EP and two albums as solid upbeat indie rock of a slightly different variety. Their success at financing their albums independently was precisely the shot in the arm the band needed. Marsh spent his time building a high-end recording studio the Vanguard Room and producing when not working with The Lulls in Traffic. Then one day, out of the blue, new album Ixora was announced.

The reunion was announced on April Fool’s Day, which threw it into question. As time passed, though, it became clear through their disclosures that the combination of having a beautiful and accessible environment in which to record, as well a marketplace that would allow them to circumvent the toxicity of the recording industry by releasing an album on their own terms, encouraged the band to reunite to record and release Ixora. Most of what they shared in discussing their mindset regarding the forthcoming creation of the new album pointed the finger at Copeland writing, recording, and releasing music, but not touring. The expectation was there would be a few album release shows and maybe a few festivals. Then came the announcement of a full spring tour of headlining dates, and an opening slot on Paramore’s spring tour—which is what brought me to the Ready Room for the first time th.

One thing about booking with the Ready Room is they share the same booking agent with the Firebird, who has a knack for lining up local talent with national acts coming through in a complementary fashion. They occasionally lean on some bands more than others, usually for good reason because these bands are talented and composed to the point you might assume they were national acts making a local stop. That was the case with Animal Empty when they were together and opening shows at the Firebird, and is the case now with The Sun & the Sea, whom I was able to catch as their closed their set. They sounded massive and had already drawn in the crowd. To verify what I caught a glimpse of, I got their CD and dug up the music they didn’t have available for sale to confirm they were worth mentioning in review. They are. I’ll be at one of their shows where they headline, and I encourage you to do the same.

Valise took the stage with little fanfare, but why should you when you know your music is going to steal the audience’s attention away? It hit home very quickly that the Dallas quintet must have made Aaron Marsh’s job as producer on their debut album Young Bloomer incredibly easy; that, or he was an excellent mentor and shaped them into the tour de force the were on this night. The Dallas foursome of Vince Penick (vocals, guitar/etc.), Jared Travis (guitar/keys/sequencer), Casey Newton (bass/keys/sequencer), and Ricky Johnson (drums/percussion) sounded like twice their number, thanks to tasteful use of digital instruments to complement the traditional four-piece rock band instrumentation. Valise filled the room with sound, each song awash in atmospherics, but rather than wade in the mistiness of those sounds, they gave the shimmering sounds a pulse by keeping the rhythms steady, playing up the cadence of the tunes. This kept the audience on their toes.

There were moments where the audience and the band seemed timid in engaging one another, each waiting for the invitation to dance. It took a few songs and a little polite prompting, but the crowd let down their guard and showed Valise just how into them they really were. As first dates go, it was Valise’s first time playing St. Louis, and I’d have to say it went really well. They made a great first impression, and commanded the stage like vets, sounding flawless and in synch, with the utmost clarity and power as Penick’s voice carried each song with the confidence and care. His tenor did not waver and their drive did not wane until their time was up. They let the crowd know that they’d been learning from the act who would follow them on that very stage shortly. They learned well.

I have to admit I was a little surprised by the casual way Copeland made their initial entrance to the stage. It wasn’t to play; it was simply to help set up gear and position things. They had stagehands and a tour manager on the case, but still, there they were, on stage, well before their set, Aaron Marsh (vocals/keys/guitar), Bryan Laurenson (guitar/keys), and Stephen Laurenson (guitar) milling about among the crowd with their touring members. That gesture dissolved any pretense one could have about rock-star mystique, or even that of artistic distance and unavailability. Copeland are just as relatable and accessible as they were in their earliest days. Before playing a note, they already shifted the mood. It could be considered the theatrical equivalent of a bolo-punch. You get caught up watching something odd and unexpected, only to get knocked silly by the haymaker that gets thrown with the obscured hand.

I don’t know if you would necessarily call Copeland’s more recent songs haymaker material. They do a number on your heart and mind in an empathic fashion, more so than kinetic. In the live context that does change: The swell of the a song that seems to pass through you and take a part of you with it on the journey, leaving something else in its place, absolutely blows you over. Seeing the emotion personified in the performers changes the game, as the audience witnesses the effort contrasted with the effortlessness of how the each sonic element is created. The performance portrays a visceral point of origin that becomes effervescent, which is precisely what happened as Copeland opened their set. That, in effect, was the haymaker to their casual, pre-set appearance bolo maneuver.

On this tour, the three aforementioned founding members of Copeland are joined by Aaron Ford on drums, Bobby Walker on bass, and a string trio of Josh Dampier on violin, Stephanie Brooks on viola, and Chelsea McGough cello; the contributions of each of these players were indispensable throughout the night. The group of eight was reserved for the Ixora material, replacing the album’s electronic elements with sinewy and smooth edges that made the crescendos sweep to greater heights, particularly on “Disjointed” and “I Can Make You Feel Young Again.” Though the numbers from You Are My Sunshine didn’t feature in the string section save for “Chin Up,” they felt just as epic, thanks to the arrangements on keys and excellent use of effects on the guitars to create an overwhelming crest, giving the sense of immersion that standouts like “The Grey Man” evoke.

This was a stark contrast to the sparseness of “Brightest” or “Coffee,” two of Copeland’s more traditional ballads from their first two albums. It’s on those two releases that Copeland provided the most catharsis, locking into one heck of a groove on “When Paula Sparks,” an absolute standout across their entire discography, along with “You Have My Attention,” which was breathtaking. On this song, the band sprang to life anew as Marsh left the keys for a few songs to play guitar, seemingly attempting to ascend, only to be tethered to the stage by the weight of instruments and attached cables. The audience, engaged and enthralled from the start, was rapturous in a way you seldom see at shows anymore, and demanded an encore.

Given the loyalty and fervor Copeland engenders in fans who have followed them along the way, it was the only acceptable outcome. They were duly obliged. After serenading the audience along with guitar, Marsh and the band sent us home with a glorious take on “Careful Now” that conveyed their penchant for juxtaposing the heartening with the a sense of musical uplift. The emotions are hard to quantify: How much is sadness, how much is resolve? I cannot honestly say; I just know I was incredibly moved by the experience. Such is the nature of great art.

With that, Copeland proceeded directly from the stage and out to greet the audience with the same graciousness and humility they had conveyed prior. It leaves you to wonder if they take their gifts and talents lightly. Perhaps they respect their gifts and talents, and the impact they have on people, thus grounding them in their humanity to further inspire their fans beyond being patrons and an audience. It certainly seemed the case. Welcome back. | Willie E. Smith Jr.

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