VIENNA, Va., June 11, 2012 –While never directly pointed out by many writers, the historic Sixth and I St. Synagogue is an interesting but odd place for a concert venue. Knowing the venue, it’s hard to create distance from the inherent religious ideas a space like this engenders or from the specific religious implications of the locale. On the flip side, a venue like this does generate a more thoughtful and inquisitive atmosphere. When the Drowning Men played there Thursday night, nothing about them would have suggested a religious attachment. But performing in a space like this did lend a bit more gravitas to their set than might have been the case playing at a normal.
The synagogue has two different areas in which bands can perform, most likely in order to accommodate the various kinds of acts it can host. The upper performance area where the sanctuary is seems best suited for calmer, more laid back performances. The audience here is able to sit down and take in the music in a relatively peaceful setting.
The basement level space is a staging area set up specifically for socials, meet and greets, and other events. It’s an ideal place for more up-tempo acts, and provides plenty of space for people in the audience to move and, if the mood strikes them, dance. It was an optimal place for the Drowning Men to play.
The Drowning Men perform a mixture of indie rock and folk. Their sound ranges anywhere from Modest Mouse to the Lemonheads. That’s just a simple way of saying they play a subtle, quirky style of indie rock that’s not necessarily hard to peg, but remains interesting all the same.
On their first full-length album Beheading of the Songbird, they carry a soft introspective tone throughout most of the album. Not that the album can’t be driving at times, but there’s a certain calmness to the manner in which they perform. During their set at Sixth and I, however, they picked up the pace considerably, making the audience more comfortable for enjoying a more rocking kind of show.
Paradoxically, however, their thoughtful serenity still seemed omnipresent throughout. The main reason for this lies in Nato Bardeen’s vocals. His voice is deep and assertive, but at the same time there’s a quivering vulnerability to it which was picked up even more in the synagogue’s basement space. Breeden’s solo excursions help give the band an added depth to both their sound and their set.
Their depth doesn’t stop with the band’s vocals. It actually points toward the broadly rounded quality of the Drowning Men in general.
There’s a clear rock and roll identity to the Drowning Men. When analyzing this band’s set, it proved hard to overlook the unique setting that gave their performance an added boost, especially when they played something like “Courageous Son” to close out their night, a piece that seemed to fit the nature of the synagogue perfectly.
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