By Tom Noonan
On Saturday, Boot & Saddle welcomed bi-continental transplants Allo Darlin’ and local scene dwellers The Pretty Greens for a double shot of intimacy. For about two hours, it was the warmest place in Philadelphia.
Boot & Saddle, if you haven’t been, is a Ron Swanson mullet of a venue, styled in halves with a no-nonsense “bar with a side of fries”-type establishment up front and an even less nonsense, 150-person capacity view of the stage in the back. There’s no clutter and little chatter. It’s the kind of place where you’re either listening or you’re leaving. But Saturday offered a third option; people started dancing.
The Pretty Greens opened things up with a crisp set of soft-spoken beach punk. Each song was lean and punchy, clever jabs from a transitioning band that rarely stretched beyond three minutes. This represents the newest iteration of the all female Philly three-piece, who seem to know exactly what they want to say but are trying to find the best way to say it.
Born of the Philadelphia’s strident feminist scene, The Pretty Greens are becoming a Message band with balance, and their set Saturday night gave the city three new voices to be reckoned with. They jangled through some strong new songs, most notable of which were “Jealous Wave” and the yet to be recorded “Ghost”. Both spread the band’s infatuation with bare bones riot grrrl hooks over a more patient and often glowing tide. The obvious references for this revision would be the shade-less surf of Best Coast, but the Pretty Greens seem more interested in the sparse canvases bands like Ought ramble over. They don’t want to get lost in their own waves, so they leave the joys in their songs simple and Message dots complex. This way you’ll dig them enough to do your own research when you get home. (Research: http://pussydivision.com/).
Allo Darlin’ closed the night with a crackling set of their peerless pop-sensibilities. Opening with Europe standout “Neil Armstrong”, a song that shows off lead singer Elizabeth Morris’s knack for wrapping syllables around hooks the way reunited lovers might hug, the majority of the band’s set was inevitably built around their superb and tender new album We Come From the Same Place. It’s an album of predominately delicate songs, especially the gorgeous and prose-heavy “Crickets in the Rain” and the beating, bleeding heart “Angela”, and their intimacy spread effortlessly into the crowd.
Most of this had to do with Morris, who seems to write from her band on outward, placing each song at a different station in their development. Each of her’s is a love song with a strict broadness that chases a feeling rather than a person. The trick she pulls live, on songs like “Kings and Queens” and “Europe”, is that she catches it. This makes for a show that you don’t sing along to as much you just bop along, especially to something like “Capricornia”, which sounds like the kind of pop the Decemberists frustratingly still refuse to play. This is also where, for some people, the dancing comes in. It’s all about what you feel.
I also have to mention the ukulele, which is Elizabeth Morris’s instrument of choice. For most singers, the ukulele is a third arm; it’s what will turn people’s heads or repel them. Think Jason Mraz or the Hawaiian guy who covered “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. But what Morris is doing for the ukulele right now is often stunning. She understands the texture of the instrument and where it should be located in a song, and she consistently finds inspired ways to match it up against Steve Rains’s guitar. Sometimes she’ll leave her bright strums as the heart in his more pensive skeleton, while elsewhere she’ll force some friction against his light distortion. These simultaneous conversations add a complication to the breeze some of their songs can be, and taken live, the results can be fascinating. It’s nothing too serious, but it’s also not a joke. Morris is doing for the ukulele what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did for rec specs.
YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGrnXEBq3QE