26 Feb 2013 – Wake Owl, Sleep Experiments, Acrylic Clouds
My first impression of the music venue in the Brillobox bar’s upstairs was one of surprise. Having been in the downstairs several times I was expecting something a bit more polished, a bit more hipster-affected and quite a bit larger. It wasn’t. It was bare bones. It was ragged. It was rough-edged and raw. It was perfect.
Wife and I arrived a few songs into Sleep Experiments ethereal set. The top of the steps opened right to the back of the room and simple wood hewn bar. There were a half dozen taps and a simple list of bottles on the chalkboard painted wall behind it. I grabbed a can of Dale’s Pale Ale and moved forward towards the front (street-side) of the room. The band was tranced out on the stage which was really just a 6 inch riser that spanned the entire width of the room. There was some colored lighting above. The floor had old black and white checkerboard tiles that felt like they came out of my grandfather’s basement. Hell, the place could have been my Grandfather’s basement except the ceiling was higher and there was craft beer instead of Coors Gold Originals. The classy/crazy wallpaper patterns (damask wallpaper, a word I just learned from Google) just blended in with the musical haze and colored light pollution.
Listening to the echos of the bands lyrical stylings with the 30 or so other patrons out on a rainy Tuesday night, I kept having flashbacks of being 16 and hearing a band for the first time in my infinitely cooler-than-me girlfriend’s basement. As if it were 1997 and we had just heard Dashboard Confessional together for the first time. The venue had a lot to do with that. It is cool because it doesn’t try. It provides the space, some rough decor and lets the music make or break the night.
It took only a few minutes to realize we weren’t really into the second band. I asked the guy sitting at the top of the steps if it was cool to take our drinks into the bar downstairs. I just assumed it wouldn’t be okay since most music venues these days get pretty particular about maximizing the amount of cash they take from your pockets. He just stared at me blankly and nodded that it was okay. From concert to bellying up at the bar in 15 seconds. A completely different world, and an unexpected convenience. Wife and I took advantage of the moment and had a quick normal volume conversation. The sound from upstairs was only audible in bursts when the door opened and someone stumbled in out of the rain.
Back upstairs, just before Wake Owl, the crowd swelled to about 35 people in a room that could probably hold 70 comfortably and 100 if everyone got real, real close. People were “checking in” and there was a lot of flannel, but unlike some of the other bars in Bloomfield/Lawrenceville or even like the downstairs can sometimes be, there was a lack in pretension. We loaded up on $3.00 taps of PBR while the guys from Wake Owl wandered through the crowd from the bar to take the stage around 11:00 PM. They proceeded to rip through their stable of songs in a much rockier way than expected listening to the recently released EP. The band writes songs inspired by The Decemberists, but plays them as if inspired by The Rolling Stones. Check them out. In about 9 months you’re going to start hearing them everywhere. The venue’s acoustics were good. It was loud but not overwhelming, and when it was over the band stepped down 6-inches to the floor with the rest of us. The closeness of the band to the crowd made it feel like we were all in this together. It wasn’t “Us” listening and “Them” creating, rather we were all somehow integral to this show happening. It was intimate in a way I haven’t experienced very often, and I give the place the thumbs up.