I found it strangely appropriate that the temperature dropped between Whysowhite breaking down and Geographer getting set up.
Whysowhite, who also played a Niteskool-WNUR-cosponsored show at Shanley Hall last spring, effortlessly got the crowd jumping. I got personally called out by Nick McMillan and Charles Haines for sitting at the back and was obliged to come dance in the throng. It wound up being a good decision, with the crowd and the increased blood flow keeping me tolerably warm.
But as the sun sank past the roof of Norris and Geographer took the stage, I wondered if the dispersed crowd would form back up to listen to songs from an often-sad indie rock trio. Don’t let me be misunderstood: I am a huge Geographer fan. Their EP Animal Shapes is one of my favorite collections of songs from the last two years (four of their best, in my opinion, graced the stage during their set), but it cuts deep. Last year’s Myth followed suit with the band’s weightiest tunes yet, exploring the fictions, grand and mundane, that help people get through the day. Yes, danceable drum beats, rich electronic hooks and carefully crafted melodies define the music of these Bay Area-natives, but in a lot of ways the compositional aspects of their music work formost as the delivery system for singer/multi-instrumentalist Mike Deni’s weighty lyrical payload.
The band talked me about what goes into their music, and what they get out of it, in a brief interview after the show.
“It’s very strange to be alive,” said Deni. “And there are just certain questions with no answers. I saw that certain people to turn to myths to cope with that… In the past myths were used to center people, they were constructive tales, and I think we believe that we have expelled the very notion of myths in present society but I saw that we don’t, we haven’t.”
The thematic depths of Myth aren’t, however, only evident in the lyrics. On tracks like “The Myth of Youth”, “Blinders” and “Lover's Game” (all of which were also included in Geographer’s set), the band explores this new thematic ground with sharper drums, guitars that have more bite and grumble than the shimmer and sign of earlier songs.
I wondered, as the crowd rocked to the electronic roar, how many of them were listening to the words. I saw one student in the front mouthing along to most of the tracks, at one point pausing to take a picture with Deni in a matching denim jacket. He, and the band, for that matter, seemed to be having a great time, more in line with the keys of the songs than their thematic content.
“It’s not cool to live without a belief system,” said Deni of the myths he personal works with. “You’re very unmoored, and it was hard for me to cope with. So that was the personal space that I was in when I was writing the lyrics to Myth.
“But I don’t mind as much now… I’ve definitely not found a belief system yet, but if I believe anything it’s that everyone’s right and everyone’s wrong. I think at the beginning of writing Myth I was judgmental of myths, but then my viewpoint changed considerably by the time [the record] was finished. The way I understand [religious belief] now is as a perfectly understandable coping mechanism… for the fact that we’re alive in a bizarre world.”
But it’s not all about personal rumination. What makes Geographer special, I think, and what had everyone out and dancing on the East Lawn in a cold front, is that they are first and foremost a Band, with a capital B, three guys who want and love to play music. They're concerned with Band Things, like whether or not people enjoy their shows and like their music. Their melodies are complicated, but they call on the crowd to sing along. Drummer Brian Ostreicher said he loves that the passion he and his bandmates have is so often reflected back at them by their audiences.
“It’s been really rewarding to connect with all the people who are fans of our music and to see them reacting so positively to what we do,” added Ostreicher.
“I can't think of any other job that has the same sort of collaboration as what we do,” said cellist Nate Blaz. “Becoming something that’s bigger than the sum of its parts, ideally. For me, this is just such a unique structure that’s so much fun to be in.”
The depth, the questions of faith and life are important, but what’s the point if people don’t want to hear it, or dance to it? And Geographer is so much fun to dance to.