The drummer’s on spot and on cue right off the bat for the early week (last week, Tuesday, to be exact) Uh Huh Her show at Vinyl. Thank you for having him, that live drummer, ladies – him being Josh Kane. Kane has toured with Pink, among others, and obviously has a knack for kicking out jazzy textures that tuck themselves humbly in the live mix of Uh Huh Her’s sound, one that blends edges of texture-based genres like new wave and electropop. This is going to be good – stay with me.
So Kane starts the set solo, almost break-beating up to the sequence of “Fascination,” a prize off last month’s EP release, Black And Blue. Guitarist Brad Thomas Ackley has tucked himself in the curtain cusp of the stage-left side of Vinyl’s front-house bandstand, allowing the drones and lowly stringy whines to pull themselves up to the light before he does enough for us to notice him as a physical presence onstage. I imagine this is how it’s been rehearsed.
Uh Huh Her was a record that PJ Harvey released in 2004. That’s right, it’s not that old of a piece of pop culture. And as of the 2007 release of I See Red (EP), it’s also the name of Leisha Hailey and Camila Grey’s indie-whatever band. Neither of those (namesake nor indie-whatever label) are insults, just facts. True, Uh Huh Her is producing and touring and supporting themselves, if not recording, within an indie context, but their sound, as aforementioned, does tend to genre jump sometimes. It’s all within a certain gel, though, that seems to be mostly defined by the vocal tonality, moderately by the cadence of songs and lightly by the pressing, yet ambiguous, queer-tinged lyrics. Dog trained society and non-music music fans might say I’m fishing too hard, but it all comes out in the live show, if my experience of it isn’t too greatly influenced by the push and pull of the crowd, that is. They were rowdy, yet friendly, obscene yet discreet. Some strange Atlanta lesbian culture club was struggling towards a bit of ambivalence for itself that night, certainly. I didn’t want to ask questions nor listen to personal accounts. This time I seriously wanted to study, not simply enjoy.
Hailey looked more ‘dirty rock n roll’ than I had anticipated. I had inquired, child-like, to my hotsie-totsie promoter lady friend early in the day with this: “How come all my photog boys aren’t interested in fashionable queer ladies playing new wave (WTF?)??” I was serious about that. Hailey’s shirt was telling me, silently – an AC/DC shirt with the right sleeve ripped off and the left intact. She was saying something with that shirt, and I appreciated the gesture, though didn’t dwell.
By the time the second song ensued, Hailey was contributing bassy goodness, hands on a Music Master that she gripped for much of the set. Grey handled quality time on a light, natural Thinline, cranking out the core chords for Ackley to ice with Jaguar drones and overtones. It was about four songs in before Grey began offering light keys melodies. The shoegaze-influenced spacey shit that Ackley continued to deliver added to the built of it, making even the lovey dovey sing-along tune types interesting.
Grey seemed to contribute more, vocally, through the beginning of the set, but about halfway through, when Hailey started singing more, a true harmony emerged. Either those two wanted things stripped down or the board operator didn’t properly judge reverb; it would’ve been nice to hear a little more, in accordance with the records, is my only complaint.
Ackley’s guitar lines are ballsy over Grey’s light key parts on “Dance With Me.” This tune really has a nice, thick bass driven progression live, that tours through superbly programmed sequencing that layers string harmonies on top of dark, minor instigated string harmonies. This is the sound that I love about Uh Huh Her, the enticer. The likely synths of this rattle on in “Explode,” too, which is precursed by about a 20 or 30 second drum and bass interlude. I’m so glad they play this song, and still wonder why it wasn’t the single off of 2008’s Common Reaction. Still my favorite, the seductiveness of that song translates differently live, but is still… well.. seductive. The line, “Won’t you pay if you wanna go down…” has a different cadence from the record. The guitars are crystal clear, as are the 80s sounding key taps toward the end, which Grey cranks out through her lower keyboard.
Black And Blue is a short record with no fat; I think I’ll live with it this year. Next in the set is another gem from it, “Never the Same.” Kane contributes some great live drums over the bass heavy bottom on this one. Following shortly is a somber, quiet number, probably the darkest thing in the set. Hailey and Grey exchange guitars in the transition between songs, and the crowd goes nuts – any brevity of physical connection, mind you, riles them in an unnatural way. Hailey and Grey hide the obvious notions to burst into laughter; it’s all in good spirits. Anyway, a dive is made into this Mazzy Star like number, which features a quiet mood with simple drones picked up by the magnets in the Thinline, which Hailey accompanies with direct, simple vocal lines… “Hate myself… taste myself… nothing what it seems.”
Hailey continues a dive into audible consummation, retreating alone to stage right, where she hunkers down on her knees and uses that Thinline as a tool for chaotic creation – something that those of us who remember her as a rebel welcome and cheer. It makes the whole thing feel real and non-contrived; it gives Uh Huh Her some credit, frankly, if Grey’s dark brilliance and electro approach to songwriting wasn’t enough. She continues there for a while, as Grey plucks low notes, seemingly oblivious to her bandmate’s state. Eventually Hailey gets up and they both discard their guitars and move around a little bit more for “Philosophy.”
Something light and beautiful follows, which ends in indie electro Nintendo-style sequencing, ala Crystal Castles. Those waves of vibrant sound bleed properly into “Black And Blue” (title track), which was obviously prepped and pressed – aka the crowd sings along. This is bookended with something slow and ‘normal sounding,’ whereby Grey utilizes a fake piano patch on her Roland. At its end, both Grey and Hailey give profuse, sincere thanks. They disappear and no encore resolves the evening for quite some time.
Quite some time turns out to actually be more like five minutes. Grey and Hailey emerge from those saloon like doors sans Kane and Ackley. Grey starts back up with that piano patch again, almost mumbling a brief moment of Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean.” By the time the folk-lovers catch on, she stops. The two stage mates go into “Dreamer,” except minus drums, and with Hailey’s Nord rendering some organ-like accompaniment, which I’m thrilled to hear. There’s just one final song left now, “Not a Love Song,” for which the guys remerge.
I lean into the stage right space for this last one, noticing that Grey has a mini, personal monitor attached to her key stand. Later, Kane sheds some light on this. To sound-summarize, the mix isn’t exactly right to me at the back of the house, but is fine down front. In the back, the bass is high and the high mids are too low, somewhat lost even. This isn’t cool, considering a lot of pre-programmed texture resides there, though it’s perfectly audible up front. Also worth noting – Kane is a jazz drummer sitting on an 18” kick kit that doesn’t offer a lot of ‘thump,’ though the acoustics of his jazzy nature are a welcomed trade-off. Kane and Ackley both lament that this is all purposeful. Grey sometimes needs a vocal boost onstage – says they, and hence the mini monitor – though I hear her and Hailey clearly throughout the duration of the set.
Given the time to push questions on Grey and Hailey, I might ask some. I want to know if Hailey has purposefully covered her tattoo with her cute RNR T-shirt fasion. I want to know why the Nord wasn’t used more, or if much of the linear sequences reside there. I wonder if Grey used the Korg Mini’s vocoder tonight. I, we all, probably, want to know if, quantitatively, fans treat Grey and Hailey different. Rather, we wonder what sort of effect Hailey’s recent acting career has had on outside perceptions of the band. I want to know if people still view her as a musician (acting being the secondary association).
The band ends on an unusual, big rock note, with a full kit drum roll and punk-ish drift toward final notation. The set was long enough, transition-y enough, and it’s barely midnight. Fantastic.
Keep up with them, uh huh HERE.