Mr. Gnome | 12.16.15

MRGNOME sqThis art rock duo conveys a constant motion belying the dynamic sound, the audience hanging on every note and longing for the next.

Firebird, St. Louis

To learn of the beautiful enigma that is Mr. Gnome is to be touched by a friend. I first heard of Mr. Gnome after a friend was floored by this unknown opening act, telling me “They sound like a cross between Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Fever to Tell–era) and The White Stripes.” In 2012, I conned a friend into seeing them with Volcanoes at Plush. At first turned off by this comparison (he’s a fan of neither), his initial disdain turned to blissful swooning. Said friend has joined me for most all their shows since. And I’ve brought more friends since. And they’ve told their friends.

A friend brought her brother to the show Wednesday night at the Firebird. Friend’s brother bee-lined for the stage, digging it all throughout, glowing after: “Thanks!” I brought another newcomer, a self-professed former-emo-kid whose last show at the Firebird was Panic! At the Disco. Former-emo-friend turned to me after each song—”Yay! Fun!”—and promptly shared with her friends.

It’s in keeping with the personal nature of the band. They bring handmade merchandise, like felted bags and tiny, ornate boxes that house a flash drive full of albums. They hang out before and after the show, chatting and taking pictures with their admiring fans. And between songs they take time to thank the audience, this collection of friends, for their support.

This collection of friends knows just how lucky it is to have heard the good news that is Mr.Gnome. It is an entrancing and stirring performance, to hear and to watch the music and the musicians: an enthralling force to behold. While the unique sound of their art rock is difficult to put in a box, the feeling is much easier to describe: inertia, a constant motion belying the dynamic sound produced by this duo (mostly), leading the audience in a musical game of Simon Says, from strumming, popping, and bouncing, to smashing, rolling, and shredding, to hanging on every note and longing for the next, for something lost and something yet to come.

The exceptional set list at the Firebird was a testament to their tireless touring, perfecting the order and selections to spin a rapt audience. Guitarist Nicole Barille and Sam Meister coordinate seamlessly to draw you into their world, opening this time with a gripping “Dark Star/Rise & Shine,” encapsulating the eclectic pitch, pace, and mood of their music. Sunny, starry vocals turned to epic smashing as Meister lunged in the pauses with the storm of energy, and then turned to a lovely haunting, wherein Barille displayed the magic of her nimble pedal pushing, looping one part of harmony over another, one lonely, echoing pep talk into the darkness after another. Chasing the loneliness away, “Star Stealers” brought back the full glory of Meister’s reach above and beyond the drums. Are his eyes are closed when he drums? Barefoot and trancelike, at one with his kit, he moves around the set as he lives and breathes.

“Light” was the only time Barille was without guitar. She needed every ounce of strength to find that vocal might, pleading from somewhere deep down. Meister left the drums for the keys, which looked miniature below his hunched and hulking profile.

The duo played as a trio for a couple of songs, the addition of Meister’s brother allowing for more strings to happen at once, as on “Odyssey,” and allowing for the closest they came to jamming, playing in and out of distortion, up and down in intensity. Through all the ups and downs, Mr. Gnome held the crowd in rapt attention. Simon says jump! Simon says sway! Simon says clap your hands! Like an interactive recital, we watched quietly, but not motionlessly, and the band thanked us often for being such an attentive and appreciative audience.

Working their way through favorites of the last three albums, “House of Circles” had Barille plucking the guitar with striking gusto alongside Meister’s majestic, flowing drum rolls. “Bit of Tongue” had heads bobbing frenetically, full of glee. “Plastic Shadow” provided another opportunity to work miracles with the magic carpet of pedals, recreating before your very eyes, tone-for-tone, the rich layers of sound only thought possible in recorded form.

The possibilities of where Mr. Gnome will continue to go with this sound are endless. Through the course of a show, they paint a compelling picture of streaking across time and space, romping through meadows, melting rainbows, and stampeding horses. Each album, each song, and each live performance conjures up another world to explore. They will share these worlds with you. You will share these worlds with your friends.

Be that friend. I will be yours. Go see Mr. Gnome. Pass it on. | Courtney Dowdall

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