Live Review: Braid and Owen at Union Transfer, August 10, 2012 (Philly)

Photo credit: Paul Drake

Friday night’s Braid reunion show at Union Transfer in Philadelphia–the band’s third stop of a two–week tour–would mark the fourth time I’d seen the band live since 1998. Editor’s note: Braid, Owen and The Past Haunts will play The Irenic in San Diego on Thursday, August 16. Friday night performance would also mark the first time I went specifically to see Braid perform, and the first time I was excited about it.

Let me clarify: I love Braid…now. I was always indifferent about them during their initial run, and felt the same during their 2004 reunion (I went to see opener Minus The Bear and didn’t even watch Braid’s set). And now I can’t imagine what was wrong with me. I loved their contemporaries like Cap’n Jazz, Jimmy Eat World, and The Get–Up Kids to death. Yet something just never clicked with Braid’s music until my mid–20’s when I heard the Movie Music anthologies (which collect all of the band’s seven inch EP and compilation appearances). I was completely blown away. It was immediately clear not only that Braid had been a massive influence on so many bands that I loved, but that they fucking rocked, pure and simple–and I had missed it.

Conversely, having been a longtime fan of opening act Owen (a.k.a Mike Kinsella), I had managed to never once see him perform live. I arrived just in time to see him take the stage, hunched over his guitar in a high–backed chair and plucking through a set that included at least two new tracks. Kinsella has a certain brilliance in conveying the beautiful awkwardness of such sung–to–death subjects as lost love, growing up, and loneliness. The stark honesty to his lyrics can be disarming, and has finger–picked guitar lines are often downright breathtaking. Although the added instrumentation found on his records (all instruments played by Kinsella), adds a depth and punch to certain tracks that is lacking in his solo acoustic performances, he nonetheless captivated the crowd.

Braid took to the stage quickly after Owen’s set, turning the atmosphere completely on its head as they launched into “The New Nathan Detroits,” the opening track of their final, signature record: 1998’s Frame and Canvas (their primary set consisted of the entire album, played start to finish).

Frame and Canvas album may be the ultimate statement on Midwest (and certainly Chicago) 90’s emo. The dual vocal and guitar interplay of Bob Nanna and Chris Broach set a template that countless bands would use, with Nanna’s higher–pitched voice at the forefront and Broach’s more aggressive shouts dodging in–between, and merging at perfect harmonic moments.

Braid’s crowning achievement, though, may have been their combination of complex time–signatures with catchy–as–hell pop riffs, best exemplified in tracks like “Never Will Come For Us,” and “First Day Back.” Drummer Damon Atkinson is a key component in that regard – his proficient yet tasteful playing seeming impressively effortless throughout the set.

An encore made up of perennial fan–favorites like “What A Wonderful Puddle” and “Forever Got Shorter” capped off the evening with the an intensity that only a “you’ve got to see them live” performance can – the kind that never quite seems to come across on record. Braid are just such a band – you’ve just got to see them live. I’m glad they gave me another chance.

Braid on tour
August 16 – San Diego, CA – The Irenic
August 17 – Pomona, CA – The Glass House
August 18 – Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour
August 19 – San Francisco, CA – Slim’s

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