Mesa’s Riveras Create
Subtle Music Storms
Thanks To Their Newly-Found Approach To Live Performances And A Nod To Poetry, Local Band Builds Upon Their Layered, Emotive Style
The cover to Somebody People Like Poetry, the self-issued album from Mesa's The Riveras.
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
Jan. 26, 2012 — Mesa indie rock band The Riveras marked the release of its new album last weekend with two CD release shows, a 21+ event at the Yucca Tap Room on Friday and an all-ages show at The Underground at the Nile Theatre.
The album, Some People Like Poetry, takes its name from a poem of the same name by Polish poet and Nobel Prize winner Wislawa Szymborska. Singer and violinist Jody Lew found the poem and presented it the other members, who heartily agreed that it should be the title of the new record, said bassist Brad Wandrey.
The poem stood out to Lew and the rest of the band because of Szymborska's overall anti-terrorism message and emphasis on the power of the arts.
At first, the pairing between Szymborska's uplifting message and The Riveras music may seem odd. I mean, the last time my path crossed with The Riveras (while I was writing for another Phoenix publication), the headline to my story read something like "The Riveras bum people out."
But after watching the group perform again and really getting sucked into the feel of the band, I understand the title a little better.
Szymborska's poem talks about poetry as an entity that, collectively, is more than the sum of its parts. She writes on the power of poetry, despite the fact that some people do not even like it.
The Riveras personify this sentiment in a way. The songs, while good on their own, are much more powerful as a collective force. While they lack a specific genre and their music may bum people out on the surface, there is a hidden power within the entirety of a performance.
The band's music is an eclectic array of violin, intertwining bass and guitar rhythms, and drums. All of that, mixed with Lew's airy vocals and the dark nature of the lyrics, makes for a sound that I cannot quite put my finger on. I call it rock but that has more to do with the fact that there is not really a defined genre out there to place the band in.
I have seen The Riveras perform in the past, so I was ready for their unique brand of depressing and layered music; however, the performance this weekend really blew me away. Instead of "bummed out," I came away impacted.
One member of the crowd at the Underground put it well, when he said that the show left him relaxed. That is not to say that The Riveras music put him to sleep, though. The band's songs intertwine with each other to form something like a thunderstorm.
The slow violin and rumbling bass that introduced the opening song "Forget You" conjured images of a storm in the distance. The song then slowly builds until, in the middle, the storm comes crashing in. And then it fades out again. And then it is back.
The show left us feeling relaxed because of the experience. The Riveras songs, especially "Welcome to Vegas," lull the audience in with a soft rolling drums and background strumming on the guitar and the bass before picking up the pace and turning into something louder, more complex and more sinister.
They draw you in to a false sense of security and then crash down on you. The relaxation comes from the fact that we weathered the awesome, destructive, beautiful storm together.
Small tweaks to the band's stage presence added a new-found bravado to the performance and helped the conjure this sort of reaction in the audience.
The last time I saw the band perform at the Tempe Tavern, Wandrey and guitarist Chad Kaffer sat down to play, Lew took center stage, and drummer Douglas Berry sat in the back at his set. The mellow set up accentuated the low-key aspects of the Rivera's songs without giving it the gravitas it needs for the big explosions and cacophonous breaks.
This time around, the band shared the stage. With the fairly timid Lew taking the left side of the stage, Kaffer and Wandrey filled in the center and right side. Instead of setting up on the drummer's platform at the very back, Berry sat just a few feet behind the other members on the main stage.
With Kaffer and Wandrey upright and moving, the songs seemed to have more feeling. Their sways, mixed with the closeness of the band members, added a sort of genuine closeness to the songs, to the storm. It felt real.
It may seem like a tiny tweak, but the stage change up helped The Riveras convey the energy that has been hiding within their songs the whole time.
The change in stage presence was extremely evident during "Know" in the middle of the set. The song opens up with Berry knocking on metal edges of the drums and moves into southern, bluesy vocals. The swaying of the band and the rhythmic vocals mixed well to send an eerie, dangerous vibe into the audience.
The song moves in and out of loud transitions and slowly fades out, with Lew's vocals complimenting the sound of the violin.
It is the unorthodox way The Riveras use sound that make them so unique; although the sound is not for everyone.
There was a distinct drop off in attendance between the 21+ show at the Yucca and all-ages show at the Underground.
While The Riveras emptied the bar and played to about 100 people on Friday night, Saturday's crowd was sparser.
But I don't take this as a critique of the band's sound, maybe just its youth appeal.
The complex and ethereal nature of The Riveras music may be lost on untrained, unjaded ears. The pain and darkness and stormy qualities of the music are easy to mistake for being "bummed out."
Not to sound old at 22, but kids these days just don't get it. That might explain why one of the younger opening acts checked Facebook on their cell phones and talked during most of the Riveras set.
But the Riveras did not let that bother us. They pulled us in on "Forget You," and did not let us go until poetic fadeout to the end of the set.
And then the band pulled us back in for a few killer covers of Sunny Day Real Estate and Jets to Brazil.
While The Riveras new-found live performance style does add something special to the songs, this should not discredit the new album. While it lacks the show experience, the album really flushes out the intricacies in each song that I may have missed at the Underground due to the overbearing screamo nonsense going on upstairs at the Nile on Saturday night.
When I listen to Some People Like Poetry, I find little riffs and words and drum beats that I didn't notice before. And every knock and note and sound adds a little bit to the storm.
Wayne Schutsky lives in Phoenix, Ariz.