A determined man with voluminous, curly hair made his way through the crowd Saturday night in the middle of a Molehill performance at Martyrs’. Even in darkness, it only took me a second to realize that this man was Molehill’s vocalist, Peter Manhart. It’s true that production elements are more than sound.
Saturday night marked Molehill’s send-off to Austin’s SxSW music festival. A lot of the audience members already knew music of this band, who’s been touring nationally for some time now. There were long-haired head bangers to my left, and spectators enjoying drinks at their tables to my right, while staying focused on the monumental sounds that were blooming on stage.
Paired with the space in Martyrs’ and Manhart’s vocals, which soared from atop the bar for “Two Souls,” Bassist Trevor Jones, Keyboardist Greg Van Zuiden and Drummer Devin Staples shared a deep bond with their audience.
“We didn’t even know he was going to do that,” said Jones of Manhart’s climb to the top of the bar, adding, “but that’s what people remember the most about a performance.” It was clear that the singer surprised the rest of the band, as its remaining members exchanged grins at the beginning of the song.
“Two Souls” was my favorite song of the evening; its placement towards the end of the set list gave the set a conclusive, firework feeling.
Manhart’s power, standing above the audience and his band mates lent itself to the song, whose lyrics describe a difficult time of letting go of someone. Even though he cries of separation, he stands above the sadness and the struggle to express what the protagonist of “Two Souls” feels.
Adding to the power of instrumentation was the keyboard, which played the important role of lighting to someone who suffers from synesthesia. The colors of the keys bring together all Molehill’s voices, and an uplifting juxtaposition to songs like this one. This band uses the keyboard to complement Manhart’s vocals, and is a highlight of the Molehill experience.
In fact, this band’s sound is comparable to that of Muse, especially with its use of the keys as a major part of its showcase. Muse Frontman Matt Bellamy’s piano lights up in different colors with each note he plays. Manhart’s voice can be compared to Bellamy’s, as well, in that Manhart’s projects over the accompanying instruments, and fills the room. But there’s really no one voice to pick over another, as each one of Molehill’s members complements the next.
Another production element not to go unnoticed was the venue the band filled. As was mentioned, everywhere I looked, someone was tapping a foot to the rhythm, or throwing a hand in the air while reciting lyrics. Although this band isn’t yet “world famous,” it was fascinating to observe the connection so many people already have with Molehill two studio albums and an EP in.
That’s easy, though, when a tribute is also paid to the late David Bowie. Molehill sprinkled in “Space Oddity” towards the middle of its set. It was refreshing to hear a local band play such a famous song with its own, crisp sound.
Chemistry was not only apparent between the band members, but also between themselves and us. A venue’s layout makes an impact when performers know how to take advantage of it, and, as a result, leave everyone wanting to get involved in the music. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like conversations circulated around the band. While singing back-up, Jones shared a long smile with fans in the front row, who were head banging, singing with and worshipping Molehill.
Movement, space and instrumentation brought chemistry to Martyrs’ Saturday night.