Leonard Rader — guitarist, vocalist, and one half of the creative nucleus of Morris Orchids — describes his band as more “album-” than “stage-” oriented. But that was only the beginning of the difficulties they faced last Friday at LoneStar Studios SMART Music Festival. Rader took the stage with an updated lineup including collaborator Chris Guerra (keys, vocals), Jaimé Rader (Leonard’s brother on samples, beats), and Matt Thomas (bassist for half the indie bands in town). It was their first gig in about a year and the material was all new.
Morris Orchids exists somewhere between Thom Yorke’s solo material and the early work of Caribou (when Caribou was still Manitoba), with interspersed elements that recall Brian Eno and the Talking Heads. “Dapper” set the tone by embodying all of these characteristics fully. The track’s opening tom beat could have been lifted from Stop Making Sense. It surrendered to a bouncy break heard on at least a dozen Radiohead tunes and a sunny key shift breaking the tension. Over it all, Leonard sang in long, falsetto notes. Derivative? Sure. But moody, engaging stuff all the same (and, seriously, there aren’t enough bands effectively hawking the legends I mention here).
The problem began right after the band finished their second tune, “Introphonic” (a sweet soundtrack perfect for pieces of furniture making love). One of the sound channels in their mixer blew. The band noticed as they were slogging through the yearning “iSong.” A climatic drum sample should have climaxed the cut, but it didn’t play, leading the band to end a measure or two early.
Guerra took the opportunity to play an untitled instrumental, incorporating variations on a ghostly piano theme and then just improvised while the Rader brothers swapped out one mixer for another. They got both channels back, but lost their monitors in the process and sadly spent the rest of the set trying to regain momentum.
Morris Orchids’ spacy, robot rock begs to be heard seamlessly in front of a seated audience, particularly because the music doesn’t change so much as shift and would make a great set piece for a capable light tech. That said, the band held on through the breezily dark “Reprise” and the synthesizer fire-flower that is “Moony.” The night did not belong to them, but it was clear that it would again in the future.
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