Review: Scout Niblett with Manuok; February 28th, 2010; Bar Pink, San Diego

Scout Niblett

With a name like a doggy treat and wearing an awesome pair of clogs, Scout Niblett took the stage at Bar Pink on Sunday in front of a few dozen people. To me it was satisfying to see that the singer, mousy and demure, actually does look and act like a “Scout Niblett,” if anyone ever could.

Don’t let your guard down on account of her unassuming stage presence, though, unless you want to get knocked on your back by that first buzzing, electric riff. The instrumentation may be sparse and the songs simple on her new album The Calcination of Scout Niblett, but on-stage her axe is plugged in and the knobs twisted clockwise. Since Scout has such an as-yet uncategorizable sound, the best I can do is to make up terms like “coffee-house grunge” or maybe “folk metal” to describe her oscillations between hushed lyrical confession and face-melting power chords. One moment she’ll coo over folky, experimental melodies you might expect from Cat Power or Regina Spektor; the next, she and her drummer explode into simple grunge choruses you might compare to PJ Harvey, sometimes even to Soundgarden.

Niblett forcefully spits her personal lyrics through gritted teeth, her face so raw with emotion that she looks like she might bite the mic out of spite. A quirky, sweet personality did show up in between songs, and one such example occurred when she asked in her sweet, lilting English accent, “Does anyone have any questions?” But then she returned to her experimentalist repertoire, digging strange tunes out of obscure modes and scales familiar only to music professors.

Maybe I had grunge on my mind that night, but I would be surprised if opening band Manuok (pronounced, obviously, like “man you okay?”) hadn’t grown up on ’90s rock as well. Led by Scott Mercado, who also forms one-third of local favorite Via Satellite, Manuok paired nicely with Scout Niblett due to shared influences and a similarly wide dynamic range. The band swings expertly between soft atmospherics and rocking, complex chord progressions. I can’t provide much insight on the lyrics, though, since Mercado, donning baseball cap and an enviable beard, mumbled like “Yellow Ledbetter” on most of the songs (except for a very cool roots swing near the end of their set). What I can say is that Manuok are worth seeking out, though preferably when they have a longer time slot with which they can sufficiently rock you.

Download: Scout Niblett – “Just Do It” (MP3)

Scout Niblett tour dates
3/9/2010, Arlington, VA, IOTA Club & Cafe
3/10/2010, Baltimore, MD, Golden West Café w/ Arbouretum
3/11/2010, Philadelphia, PA, Johnny Brendas
3/12/2010, Brooklyn, NY, Union Pool, w/ Picastro
3/13/2010, New York, NY, 92 Y Tribeca w/ Vetiver & Kevin Barker
3/14/2010, Allston, MA, Harper’s Ferry
3/16/2010, Montreal, QC, Casa del Popolo
3/17/2010, Toronto, ON, Horseshoe Tavern w/ Picastro
3/18/2010, Detroit, MI, Lager House
3/19/2010, Chicago, IL, Schubas Tavern, w/ Picastro
3/20/2010, Madison , WI Frequency
3/21/2010, St. Paul, MN, Turf Club
3/23/2010, Denver, CO, Hi Dive Club w/ Sleepy Sun
3/24/2010, Salt Lake City, UT, Urban Lounge
3/25/2010, Boise, ID, Neurolux, w/ Xiu Xiu
3/26/2010, Portland, OR, Berbatis Pan w/ Holy Sons
3/27/2010, Seattle, WA, Sunset Tavern, w/ Holy Sons

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