May 28, 2012

That Was The Show That Was: Hospitality | Bunk Bar, Portland | 25 May

Hospitality, Bunk Bar, Portland, Oregon, May 25

In the wake of its recent self-titled debut, the subject of a significant amount of praise [review], hotly tipped Brooklyn pop combo Hospitality graced Bunk Bar Friday night with a short, tight set for its Portland tour stop with Here We Go Magic. The foursome has demonstrably honed its live show into a razor-wire indie-pop tour de force.

Taking the makeshift stage at Bunk Bar -- a venue that normally operates as a fantastic sandwich shop but which features acts like Japandroids and Cloud Nothings weekly -- Hospitality took fans by surprise by shooting right into their set after only a quick thanks. Most patrons assumed the band was sound checking, and most of the room had gone outside to watch fireworks from the yearly city fair. But once fronter Amber Papini's first strums and singing on "The Birthday" led into a loud and thick rhythm, the crowd poured inside. While Bunk Bar may seem an odd choice of venue for bigger indie artists, it is clear why they keep coming here: it's operated by true fans who keep ticket prices reasonable and the space is outfitted with a sound system that does the best job possible in the large and dark concrete room. "Enthusiasm" is the word of the day here.

Perhaps the group read this scribe's review, or maybe it's a common sentiment, but either way, Hospitality played only their faster songs from the aforementioned long-player, as well as a few new tunes that rocked even more. Single "Friends of Friends" visibly inspired a third of the crowd to dance along, and "Betty Wang" and "Eighth Avenue" here had their best moments intensified with an electrified punch. Without the kitchen-sink arsenal deployed on record, the band used amplification and Nathan Michael's wide array of clicking and spewing guitar effects to fill the space, to great effect. Papini's voice was as strong and multi-dimensional as on their album, though infused with a bit more tossed-off recklessness that lent a bit of danger to her delivery.

The true stunner though, was the performance of bassist and backing singer Brian Betancourt. It was he who weaved a distinct, jazzy bunny hop in and out of the proceedings (not something this reviewer usually associates with praise, but here a true feat). His deft touch not only locked in with the drums so expertly, but was delivered in a such a non-traditional manner that it was exciting to watch. The odd, single note fills he would place during stops in the middle of a song were as psychedelic as anything a wayward six stringer might attempt. Mr. Betancourt this night was truly the sharpened knife at Papini's side.

Before closing their set, the band played a quick and furious new number that began and ended with a quickly strummed exposition that sounded like Hospitality's take on The Strokes. This proved not only to be a very interesting and unexpected angle, but it also fueled the best song of the night. It suggests that what comes next from Hospitality may not be simply refinement of its songwriting, but a metamorphosis into an impossibly tight rock unit with an acoustic-pop past, a well-oiled sleeper that can rev up at all the right moments. -- Edward Charlton

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