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Review: PHOX, Trails and Ways, Rob Kroehler

PHOX review at Rhythm Room

Photo by Mandi Kimes

Rob Kroehler started the evening with an acoustic set. Last time I saw Kroehler perform was at Crescent Ballroom for an acoustic evening with Ladylike, when he asked for someone to live-tweet the performance (to which I did just that). Rob reminds me of local act Ryne Norman but carries the vocal inflections of Bob Dylan. He explained the reason for Ladylike’s hiatus (he’s currently studying for his master’s in music at ASU) and said that one of his songs is new and “may be just a huge clusterfuck.”  Rob could easily begin a musical comedy sketch, similar to Demetri Martin, with his sarcasm and witty charm to ease the crowd into the intimate setting. He played a lot of new songs, one of which is about his child, and another that showed off his guitar-playing talent.

Trails and Ways is an eclectic rock band from Oakland that is comprised of Keith Brower Brown on rhythmic guitar and synthesizer, Hannah Van Loon on lead guitar and keys, Emma Oppen on bass, and Ian Quirk on drums, and everyone taking part in vocals. Oppen thanked the audience for attending the show on a weeknight, followed by explaining that she says “weeknight” because she “can’t remember what day of the week it is.”

Most of the songs are bass-driven with harmonious guitar melodies layered on top. The third song they played began with hand claps and the ladies singing “dah-dah-dahoo” until Oppen began singing in a foreign language. When Van Loon played her guitar solo, it was provocative and charming. Quirk sang lead on the fourth song, which was funky and dancy. Van Loon sang lead on “Heavy Sleeper” and Brower Brown accompanied a dreamy melody on the synthesizer. The crowd danced to “Skeletons,” a post-apocalyptic tune, while the last song included comparisons to Arcade Fire’s “We Exist.” Most of Trails and Ways’ songs are reminiscent of the 1980’s pop and new wave craze, while also incorporating sounds of Bombay Bicycle Club and Givers. It’s apparent that each member in the band plays an important role in the songwriting and composing process.

PHOX began its set with “Shrinking Violets” and it was clear from the beginning that Monica Martin’s live vocals sound exactly how they do on the album, which pleased me very much. The harmonies from Jason Krunnfusz, Matteo Roberts and Zach Johnston, mesh perfectly with Martin’s interesting melodies. Martin possessed an old-school style to her: she wore a pin-up style hairdo with a bandanna tied around her head, cat-eye glasses, and a simple black dress. During “Leisure,” the band was incredibly tight. Back when I was in jazz choir, one of the rules to a successful jazz group was the ability to groove together, and you can tell when a group grooves together by the way their heads bob in unison, as if they’re choreographed. You couldn’t break the groove in the room with a wrecking ball. The harmonies on “1936” were incredibly on point. I noticed that Krunnfusz and Matteo Roberts sang higher harmonies above Martin’s melodies, and it was gratifying to know that two men could sing that high and hit the notes perfectly. Martin explained that her Aunt Julia was in the audience and, “knows exactly what family bullshit I’m talking about [in ‘1936’],” when she sings “Her blood is our blood, too.” Matteo Roberts steals the spotlight during “Noble Heart” with his luscious piano introduction, to which he passes the spotlight to Martin with her beautiful voice, which then moves to Matt Holmen in a shredding guitar solo that brings everyone together for a balanced ending.

Martin explained that “Kingfisher” is a song about “when you love someone from far away, but when you get close you don’t love them so much anymore.” Davey Roberts ornaments the tune with off-beats and percussive flare that drives the force through the tune. “Satyr and The Faun” was an ideal song to play after a strong first half to slow it down and exemplify the many facets of vocal harmonies and sultry instrumentation. Martin said she talks too much, but it’s honestly better to appreciate songs when you understand why they were written. In the case of “Evil,” she says that “some people are assholes…and some people sleep with your best friend.” The audience clapped along. The song is loud and quiet at just the right moments. The audience continued to clap along and whistle to “Slow Motion,” the band’s first single. The reason why this song is so popular, in my opinion, is because it showcases each of the members perfectly: Martin’s vocals soar over Matteo Roberts’ twinkling piano in the verses, Davey Roberts leads the rhythm with finesse, Johnston subtly dances and you can see the passion as he moves, and Krunnfusz and Holmen jam together in a dance on the bridge, while Dan brings everything together in his soft additions.

Blue and White” was a ballad that started off slow and then built up by the piano and leads into a roaring slow jam. Davey Roberts plays a marching rhythm with cymbal ornamentation. Before they performed “Garden Night,” Martin asks Krunnfusz to sing the tune, to which he replied, “Ok, fine,” as if she had been asking him all during tour to sing it and he had finally given in. It’s during this part of the set that I realize that Martin is not the diva frontwoman type of lady: she shows her appreciation and embellishes the art of teamwork and friendship through the band’s music, whereas most frontwomen walk around the stage commanding the audience’s attention and treating their band like an accompanying track to their talent. This is not Martin; she even states: “We’re all equal up here.” The last two songs PHOX performed were “In Due Time,” which Monica explained as “sad as hell,” and “Espeon,” a song about her sister Bianca.

I noticed many common themes throughout the evening between all three artists: raw, genuine honesty. Oppen from Trails and Ways stated that when she tried to go running earlier, she realized it was really hot outside, but “your sunsets are beautiful.” Before PHOX started its last two songs, Martin stated: “I’m getting real with you guys…I’m not gonna do the run-around thing because I respect you guys.” She explained that she understands that when they leave the stage, the normal “encore” thing happens and they’ll come back on stage and do one more song, but she stated that she’d rather just play the two songs instead of leaving and coming back. I respect that about her. And you could tell the audience agreed because before they played the last song, they jokingly yelled “encore!”

What I Saw: Girls with top-knot bun hairdos or short choppy hair (can you tell it’s summer), and guys with button-up collared shirts with the sleeves rolled up. Everywhere.

What I Heard: Transition music ranged from Bastille to Grouplove to pop-punk classics like Jack Mannequin’s “Dark Blue.” Talk about a throwback.

What I Liked: The fact that no one cared that they were at a show on a Monday. Rob even said, “It’s Monday, fuck it,” before starting the song about his child. Monica even thanked the audience for coming out on what she deems “Netflix day,” which apparently happens every Monday.

What I Didn’t Like: Everywhere I went in the Rhythm Room, a group of people were talking. Now, I understand I was in the back half of Rhythm Room where the bar is, but don’t have a conversation with your friends where you are louder than the music going on upstage. Or, go outside.

What I Learned: Adam is one of the coolest merch guys around. Also, Martin is a Capricorn.

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