When Fassler Hall opens its doors this Friday night, Dec. 16, you can be sure the house will be packed, but it wonít be your typical concert crowd. After a lineup that saw blues, followed by songwriter fair and ear blistering indie rock last week, a couple of local favorites join forces to push the envelope once again, albeit in an arguably different direction.
When And There Stand Empires and Panda Resistance come together the music will go in a more experimental, if not completely improvisational, direction. Rooted in indie post-rock with jazz undertones, both groups depart into fully instrumental genres, but do so with musical sensibilities that make them remarkably similar and different at the same time. Their differences are disparate enough to make the two seem like opposites, yet they operate so well within a similar sphere that they complement each other without covering the same territory.
And There Stand Empires is the elder of the pairing, having originally formed in 2000 with core members James Plumlee and Daniel Sutliff at the helm, both playing bass with drum loops. Julia Hangs joined on keyboards in 2001 and the group went through a handful of drummers before breaking up when the current drummer moved away.
When Plumlee and Sutliff decided to reform again in late 2007, Hangs was immediately on board so the only missing piece was once again finding someone to fill the drumming role. The call was finally made to Hank Hanewinkle III (of Red Alert and Fiawna Forte) in early 2008 to complete the lineup. This wasn't a random call, however, as Hanewinkle had sat in with the band in its earlier incarnation and actually played with them when they opened for Drums and Tuba at Steamroller Blues. The members have watched him develop over the years, making him a seemingly natural fit for the band at this point.
Before returning to the stage the band rehearsed for roughly a year, refining its sound and direction with additional instrumentation, such as a vibraphone, which added a new depth and color to the band's sound.
The band's sound has continued to develop even within the past year with the addition of Clay Welch on guitar. His presence came to pass when Julia Hangs was not able to perform with the band at Norman Music festival due to a prior obligation. In her absence, the band used her recorded tracks and asked Welch to sit in, adding additional texture to the group's sound. The pairing worked incredibly well and has led to shared shows with Welch's primary band, Panda Resistance.
Panda Resistance approaches the genre from another direction. Comprised of Welch on guitar, Andrew Bones on drums and percussion, and Bo Hallford on bass, the trio came together in 2009 with no intentions of creating a band. Instead, they came together simply to play and experiment. The chemistry was undeniable, however, and Panda Resistance is the result.
Although Panda Resistance's self titled debut was a little schizophrenic, jumping between sounds and styles, the new disc is more focused and direct. Part of that is because the band wasn't originally writing for a CD, but merely demoing songs as they were written. Eventually, the groups decided to finish the recordings and put them out due to public interest.
With the latest release, Oh Helen!, the band has developed a tighter chemistry over three years together and created its own sound.
While And There Stands Empires definitely has an improvisational feel and element to it, Plumlee explained that "the idea is not to be completely loose, but to always have a foundation to come back to."
It's just that focus and intention that keeps the band so concise.
Empires' heavier sound can be at least partly attributed to Plumlee and his metal and punk rock roots, as well as Hanewinkle's drumming. There are still delicate moments, however, where Hangs' piano textures and directs the music. Sutliff is the subtle wildcard of the group, drawing from a multitude of directions. When combined, it all comes together with powerful and dynamic effect.
There's an obvious tie between the two acts as Clay Welch is tied to both, but an evening with both bands is far from more of the same. While complementary, the two move in opposite directions.
And There Stand Empires is the decidedly heavier and more dynamic of the two acts, delivering its compositions with an almost storm like ferocity at times. Panda Resistance, on the other hand, has more melodic approach to its delivery as Hallford's bass ties everything together and Welch's guitar lines fill the space where most indie rock acts would put vocals.
When combined, the collection of art and music will transform Fassler Hall for the evening. Cover is only $5 at the door, so come out early and experience two bands that have been turning heads and drawing great responses on their own, but make an even stronger impact when working together to reflect two distinctly different sides of the instrumental rock movement.
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