Combine cool evening temperatures with a half-full (and cavernous) State Fairpark Horticulture Building and a sleep-inducing opening act and what kind of live show do you have?
What you get is a slightly disgruntled, if not hibernating, crowd at what sounded on paper like one of the more promising recent post-modern rock concerts.The headlining Heart Throbs might have been good, but it's hard to say, considering the condition I was in after the snore-fest set the Railway Children put on.
That's not to say that the Heart Throbs didn't put on probably the best performance they could have, all things considered. The Reading, England, quartet punched up some of the more gentle (and dreamy numbers) off their debut album, "Cleopatra Grip," but it's doubtful that even a punk-rock band could have moved the slumbering crowd.
Though keyboardist Stephen Ward said earlier that the Heart Throbs bear no resemblance to fellow Reading band the Sundays, they at least borrow heavily from the same ambient pop sound, admittedly with a lot more grit.
Thick dual guitar riffs competing with eerie synthesizer swells and bass rumble characterize the band's musical sound, at least under normal circumstances. Friday night, though, the Heart Throbs sounded like they could have been playing somewhere in the Okeefenokee Swamp.
Most of the blame has to rest with the consistently poor sound at the Horticulture Building, which sizewise is well-suited for such a show. Maybe some of these shows sound good to the crews sitting a good three or four feet off the ground, but to a large portion of the crowds I've talked to, most live performances there sound like mud.
Probably the best things about the show was how Heart Throbs leader Rose Carlotti's ghostly vocals rang out around the dungeon-like concert site, and how bassist Rachel Carlotti's support vocals made eerie echoes. If only the sound had been good enough so we might have understood what they were singing.
Even the band's impressionistic single "Dreamtime," and my favorite song off the album - the cheery "Slip & Slide," replete with ringing guitar peals - sounded muddled.
In stark comparison, Manchester, England quartet the Railway Children didn't have any problem sounding the same live as they do on vinyl - awful.
There's nothing to distinguish this straight-ahead, post-modern pop/rock band with any other johnny-come-latelys to the musical scene, except for the fact that somehow the Railway Children - who, musically, bear a slight resemblance to early INXS - have managed to record three albums.
For example, their excruciating single "Music Stop" relies heavily on Gary Newby's extremely flat vocals for its hinging point. The way bassist Stephen Hull and guitarist Brian Bateman were prancing around onstage during the song, you'd have thought they were playing "acid house" music, or at least something with a decent beat.