CONCERT REVIEW Say Hi: Raw Like Sushi
Second Opener Steals the Show
TT The Bear’s Place
October 21, 2009
Say Hi (formerly Say Hi to Your Mom), the little-known second opener at TT’s, proved to be by far the most talented band of the evening, blowing both the opening act and the headlining band out of the water. Raw and loud without any sacrifice to their catchy, simple melodies, Say Hi’s show on Tuesday was a performance that changed the way one would listen to a band’s recorded work.
Opening for Say Hi, The Soft Drugs pursued outstandingly mediocre, minor-key, guitar-driven rock. Fronted by ex-Pedro the Lion member T. W. Walsh, The Soft Drugs presented an interesting arrangement where almost all of the singing was crooned by the drummer. However, the novelty of their setup, even tempered with an excellent lead guitarist, failed to ameliorate their stolid, easy-to-anticipate songs. The headlining act, David Bazan, while opening with a slow, shoe-gazing guitar anthem, fell short of their potential, and left me waiting for something to happen throughout their set.
Soaring over the low bar set by the opening act, Say Hi’s three band members took the stage and went immediately to work making amends. With almost all of the studio recording done by frontman Eric Elbogen in his basement, predicting the band’s cast at any given concert is more guesswork than research. Tuesday’s performance saw him on guitar, accompanied by a bassist/back-up singer and a talented drummer.
Before hearing their set, the working title of this article in my head — a scary, confusing place at the best of times — was “Say Hi, or How I Came to Stop Fearing and Love Indie Pop.” Post concert, this title was blown: the first bars of their opening song “Hallie and Henry,” featured heavy, unfiltered rhythm guitar, a rash drum beat, and a harsh bass-guitar line that were completely unexpected from their recorded work. Mixed loud, they hashed out about ten songs, mostly off their two most recent LPs “The Wishes and The Glitch” and “Oohs and Aahs,” all dripping with reverb. The drummer, an enthusiastic dude resembling Dave Grohl ca. 1990, exhibited huge enthusiasm, and the songs were better off for his all out assault. (Imagine that: a Seattle-based band touring with a drummer that looks like Dave Grohl.)
Despite the louder, rawer musical style, Elbogen’s compelling melodies lost none of their beauty, and were actually improved by their juxtaposition to the band’s live incarnation. Unlike many bands’ under the “indie pop” heading, Say Hi’s lyrics, even those in the traditional category regarding girls that didn’t call them back, are cogent and strong, mostly warning their listeners about the dangers of love: “if the devil was a girl/ and she wore a yellow tee/ she’d be the spitting image/ but that’s okay with me.”
Showing off an easy on-stage personality, Elbogen told several jokes in between songs, and entertained a brief Q&A session with members of the audience. At least twice prior to a song, he stopped and announced, “and this is a song about vampires.” While this might seem a continuation of his comedic persona, in reality, almost every song off their album Impeccable Blahs (2006) is actually about the living dead, with titles like, “These Fangs,” “She Just Happens to Date the Prince of Darkness,” “Not as Goth as they Say We Are,” and “The Reigning Champ of the Teething Crowd.”
Good lyrics? Great Sound? Beautiful Melodies? Vampires? Why don’t more people know about Say Hi? In this author’s opinion, Say Hi fell victim to the same terrifying trend that has been sweeping rock music since the turn of the millennium: over-production. Producers no longer seem comfortable with a band’s true sound, and feel the need to smooth out the eddies and distortions that differentiate rock music from electrically produced pop. This yields two pieces of advice to would-be Say Hi fans: If you get a chance to see this band live, take it; if you are going to listen to their studio albums, crank that volume so loud that you could wake Dracula during daytime.