Shea Stadium on a New York summer night, is, to put it bluntly, a masochistic decision supported only by nostalgia. Standing in the relatively small venue with all the cooling of a lone fan and a halfway decent sound system, the ambience reminded me of the suburban house shows I’ve been to. Whether sweating in friends’ garages or basements or in Shea Stadium, listening to the melodies and tunes of bands who have not yet garnered a “Best New Track,” the message is the same: garage rock is best served without that sugary frosting that’s coating your Cronut.
Before The Mantles took the stage, Juan Wauters of The Beets and Carmelle Safdie of Captured Tracks’ The Beachnicks entertained the audience with a short but memorable set. The stage set-up itself was a D.I.Y-approved scene of American, New York, and Queens-inspired flags and abnormal light: a taxidermic wolf lamp stood between Wauters and Safdie while a bulb attached to Wauters’ guitar faded in and out during the set. Throughout the show, an eerie and mystical sensation surrounded the band. Various shadows flickered across Wauters’ and Safdie’s faces as their bulbs dimmed and illuminated, heightening the melodic effects of their vocals. Harmonies cascaded from the vocalists’ mouths, wrapping themselves within the listeners’ minds and lulling everyone into a spiritual entrancement. This “hypnosis” was further assisted by the dearth of evidence signaling the transitions between songs. Wauters and Safdie would play the rhythm of one song, but without notice, speed up the tempo, alter the dynamics, or make other changes necessary to provide a smooth and almost unnoticeable transition between songs.
While the strength of Juan Wauters’ performance came from subtlties and an aspect of the unknown, the jangle-popping Mantles delivered their musical message hard and fast. The band saturated the hot, sweaty venue with high levels of distortion and reverb alongside heavily inflected vocals. Although The Mantles were touring under the guise of promoting their recent release this past year, their sophomore LP Long Enough To Leave, the band’s setlist told the story of a band playing whatever suited their mood that night. Fortunately, that went over pretty well with the crowd.
Although The Mantles played quite impressively, it must be noted the band was graced with an extremely laid back and forgiving crowd who understood the troubles of technical difficulties. Shortly into the set, frontman Michael Olivares’ guitar string snapped. In a frenzy, Olivares attempted to multitask by fixing the string while continuing to sing. The band, and some crowd members, all gave shifty looks to Olivares and were most likely all thinking the same thing: “Stop fumbling around and just sing.” Amidst his attempt to restring the guitar after the song, those in Shea Stadium attempted to lighten the mood, from the guitarist strumming Jeopardy to people loudly voicing their stories on what they’ve broken: a bass and a face. Fortunately, The Denzels’ guitarist managed to loan Olivares his Telecaster to play, giving The Mantles the assurance to keep on playing.
Unfortunately, Olivares could not catch a break. Maybe he jinxed himself, but after playing the Doors-esque single “Hello,” which he claimed was “our last [song of the night], maybe one more,” the second guitar broke down. Olivares once again made a scene on stage, hoping to somehow bring the guitar back to life by testing it on the various amps mid-song. Finally, the vocalist made the smartest decision: letting go of the guitar and having fun.
The remainder of the set could have possibly been the best segment of The Mantles performance. When Olivares had no guitar in hand, the band came to life. Olivares started dancing around onstage, climbing on top of amps, and even banging along with a mallet, while drummer Virginia Weatherby seemed more jovial and relaxed. While the technical difficulties may have provided a fear-inducing impasse, the band pushed through successfully, a true sign that they’re moving out of the garage and into the big boy league of shiny venues.
Photos by Suyi Tay.