Mercury Lounge, New York City • October 26, 2012
Doom and dream -- it's the mood created by the bass line in the Melvins' song "A History of Bad Men." Fast forward the song to 2:54 and there you have it: the inspiration behind the name of the band led by sisters Colette and Hannah Thurlow. A band named after a bass line from an obscure song.
After a summer tour of opening up for The xx, 2:54 headlined at New York's Mercury Lounge for a late night of English psychedelic grunge.
Opening for 2:54 was Jangula, a local New York band whose original songs seem to blend the Kinks and the Ramones. Jangula's set kept my interest mostly because of the lead singer's Q-chord -- an odd-looking instrument (or even musical toy), with presets of Transylvanian synth-organ and jangly-bell chords that gives the band's sound a quirky feel.
2:54 started playing shortly after 11pm to a rather sparsely filled room of about 100 people. The spotlights were so dim that I had to squint to get a decent view of the band. I get that the Thurlows give a curtsy to shoegazing while sound-painting a foggy sylvan walk during the gloaming. But here's the catch with shoegazing: If you're going to make it about the live music over stage presence, then make sure that the music is balanced and at the forefront.
Here's where the band was unjustly served by the Mercury Lounge. The sound of Colette's siren-like voice weaved with Hannah's trance-like guitar lines is one of 2:54's most endearing qualities, but Colette's vocals were drowned out by the drums and over-reverberated much more than on the album. Poor sound mixing turned her precious voice into one big auditory smudge. This was a surprising turn from the clearer vocals that I heard during the Jangula set. I can only suspect that 2:54 would have wanted this sound for the venue.
So the hour was way past the gloaming into the night, and the muddied sound further disengaged all but the die-hard fans. I overheard casual listeners in the back commenting that they had "heard enough after about four songs" and it was "too late to stay." Roughly a third of the audience had left by the midway point, and the numbers further dwindled towards the end of the set, which lasted just under an hour. After their last song, "Creeping," Colette gave a quick thanks and the band left the stage. The brighter stage lights that I had hoped for finally came on, only to accommodate tearing down the set -- there was no encore for the thirty or so people who stayed to the very end.
With that said, I would still see 2:54 again. I have heard 2:54 concert recordings online and I know that they put on a great show. I would just make sure that it's in a venue with better acoustics, like the Bowery Ballroom or the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Better still, dear Thurlow sisters, take note of the acoustics in your venues. If you're going to attract new listeners who only know you from one or two air-played songs, then dial back the wispy, esoteric feel just a tad in the live performance; it doesn't translate well in small and stripped-down clubs like the Mercury Lounge.