The Instants
Thurs Dec 13 at the Breakroom.

With its great, jangly minor-chord arrangement and weird, droning vocals, the Yardbirds' "For Your Love" was the most exciting song played by last Thursday's opener, the Instants. Which is not to say that the Instants eclipsed or even managed to achieve the Yardbirds' cool '60s pop sound, but that "For Your Love" is an excellent choice for a cover song: a great tune no matter who plays it, provided they get the chords right. And the Instants had no problem with the basics.

What the Instants did have a problem with was making heat. The performance was so humble that it was often difficult to notice. The Instants are four people: Heath Heemsbergen on vocals and guitar, Kimberly Morrison on guitar and backup vocals, Matt Rempel on bass, and Pete Capponi on drums. Each player is worth his or her weight in salt, but after watching this set I wondered what any of them were actually trying to do up there. Morrison stared at the ceiling most of the night. She didn't seem unhappy, but often she was disaffected to the point of distraction, while Heemsbergen was earnest but not very powerful or charismatic.

The audience, a crowd of about 30 people, was happy and wholly supportive, but I had a difficult time with how average it was. The rhythm section kept it a very simple 4/4 time throughout the set. Heemsbergen played minimal bar chord progressions and sang in a sweet (if timid) voice, while Morrison played bar chords and soloed. Her solos were strong, but they were kept conspicuously low in the mix. In fact, a member of the audience shouted to her mid-set, asking her to turn herself up. "Are you serious?" she asked, which was sort of charming.

One-Night Stand is not quick to cry sexism, but it seemed strange that the female lead guitarist would be virtually inaudible while the male rhythm guitarist could be heard perfectly, through three entire songs. Perhaps there were problems with the system, or maybe she had her own amp turned too low and there was nothing the sound guy could do for her. The point is, Morrison was strong but unassuming, which is only charming for so long.

The band opened the set with a twangy and traditional punk rock sound that reminded me a bit of X, specifically in the guitar work and the manner in which the male and female vocals interplayed. The majority of the show, however, was pretty straightforward bar rock. By the sixth song, after the Instants had finished "For Your Love," Heemsbergen's voice and demeanor grew more confident. His vocal was even a bit piercing on the chorus, a welcome dynamic. Eventually Heemsbergen was shouting, "That's all, that's all, that's all..." repeatedly, and it shot out like a siren, which was very exciting. The guitar lines were grinding and banging up against each other in energetic fits, and that's when the show hit its peak.

But overall, the band was too insular to be transcendent. Or perhaps the Instants were just too nervous. As the show came to a close, there were deeper, more artful punk moments wherein the band recalled the Velvet Underground by way of Yo La Tengo, and it was pretty groovy. In fact, if I were given the choice, I would push the players in that direction, a sound more suited to the Instants' insular stage performance.

"You give me such a bad time," Heemsbergen sang on the final song, and I couldn't resist the thought: A bad time is better than no time at all.