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Jukebox the Ghost w/ Elizabeth and the Catapult @ Cactus Club

Oct. 12, 2010

Oct. 13, 2010
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Jukebox the Ghost pianist Ben Thornewill didn’t have any luck goading guitarist Tommy Siegel into making a silly face he thought the audience might enjoy. The face, Siegel explained, was an exaggerated frown that he sometimes makes when listening to Depeche Mode, but he was in too high of spirits to replicate it at the band’s show at the Cactus Club Tuesday night.

Jukebox the Ghost isn’t a band that frowns much. The Philadelphia trio’s buoyant piano-rock sticks closely to the playbook of Ben Folds, with whom the band toured last year, but where Folds occasionally mourns a girlfriend’s abortion or a compatriot’s death, Jukebox the Ghost knows only one emotion: happiness. Where The National producer Peter Katis infuses some welcome drama into the band’s new album, Everything Under the Sun, in concert the band never tempers its go-for-broke glee, playing every song like it’s Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.” That they were playing for an anemic crowd of less than 20 didn’t bother them at all, and even when they closed their set with a Cure cover, it was a characteristically jubilant one, “Close to Me”—and once again they out-happied Folds, whose Head on Door cover of choice is “In Between Days.”

For that closer, Jukebox the Ghost was joined by members of their similarly high-spirited opening acts, Elizabeth and the Catapult and Via Audio, both from Brooklyn. Elizabeth and the Catapult was the more realized of the two, a likeable indie-pop trio that set Fiest’s jazzy pleasantries to the shifty tempos of Spoon or Cold War Kids. Singer Elizabeth Ziman, whose personable voice is full yet never showy, remarked that one of the group’s song was recently featured in a Google advertisement, an achievement that finally sold her mother on her career path, without necessarily paying as well as one might expect. It’s not hard, though, to imagine the band landing a much more lucrative placement in an Apple commercial soon.

Via Audio’s set was much less polished, so much so that I was surprised to learn they’ve been playing together since 2003 (I would have assumed this was their first tour). They skittered erratically between shambolic indie quirk, jazzy torch songs and goofball funk. Buried in the mess were the seeds of a good idea: The group’s slower numbers cleverly played on the sexually frustrated indie-R&B of The xx, and were convincingly sold by the breathy voice of Jessica Martins, a captivating presence with Rihanna’s asymmetrical haircut and enviable bone structure. If the band wants to build on the promise of those songs, though, they’ve got a lot of weeding to do first.


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