The Smittens and Cotton Candy at The Middle East

[The preview for this review is here.]

On New Year’s I caught Cotton Candy upstairs at The Middle East. Their set was pretty good. The setlist was very similar to the performance I’d seen at The Plough and Stars, although there the duo benefited from the intimate setting. At The Middle East their quirkiness and sparse presentation didn’t quite fill the space, and it took awhile for the audience to really “get” their unique brand of humor. But M and I both enjoyed their set (although I found myself wanting to hear more of their own songs instead of the jingles and covers, enjoyable as they are), and the addition of a drummer on one song was a welcome surprise. We also both finally got around to looking up the origins of their closer song, which is actually entitled “Freelove Freeway”. Turns out it’s from the British The Office. A video of the uncut version of the song from the show can be found here. M also did some research and found a nice preview of Cotton Candy and the show at the Weekly Dig and a rough-around-the-edges-but-endearing performance of theirs from May 22 of last year for WMBR’s “Phoning It In”.

Part of the reason it took a while for the crowd to settle into Cotton Candy’s set was because they had been preceded by the much more rollicking and freewheelin’ group The Smittens, from Vermont. I’d heard a bit of them beforehand online and had found them to be a bit too twee for me, but live I was won over by their humor and easygoing stage presence. I’ve gotten a bit tired of boy/girl vocals, but I really enjoyed how the three vocalists in The Smittens work in tandem, at times trading verses within the same song, and the fun and memorable vocal arrangements they come up with. One highlight in particular was “Half My Heartbeats” which featured band member Dana Kaplan making the best of the circumstances and playing a single castanet, and ending up making it look like nothing so much as some strange sort of miniature Muppet. It was pretty great.

So that was a big win for the night, and it’s great to start the year with another band to add to my list of bands to keep track of. Their official site is here and there’s a fair amount of other audio on their Last.fm page as well. [Edited: Can I just say I’m totally digging their recordings now? I’m definitely going to pick up a CD or two when they’re next in town.]

Missed the first band and stayed for just a bit of the final band One Happy Island. Unlike The Smittens I was pretty much completely turned off by OHI live, who on mp3 sound fine, but live just came across as really fratty. Which is not to my taste, but if you’re a fan of bands like Neutral Milk Hotel or ones that feature trumpet you may enjoy them.

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