Post-Modern Panic CD Release Party
w/ Farewood, Wess Meets West, June 21, 10 p.m., $7-$10, Arch Street Tavern, 85 Arch St., Hartford, (860) 246-7610, archstreettavern.com
Bands fronted by singers who haven't been doing it long have a certain nervous, contagious energy.
In practice rooms, old band shorthand and conventions, long taken for granted by experienced players, take on new meanings, as the newbie gets up to speed. But on stage, usual levels of performance anxiety, compounded by the singer's inexperience, lead to unexpected, exciting forms of expression: brashness, twitching, oversharing during between-song banter, tripping over cords, drinking too much. The crowd, meanwhile, either roots for the person's success, hopes to witness a train-wreck, or both. It's not alien to rock and roll, nor is it a recent phenomenon. (Jim Morrison was allegedly terrified at those first Doors gigs that he performed his back to audiences. We all know how that turned out.)
Post-Modern Panic, a Hartford band with three veterans (drummer Tim Bojanowski, guitarist Karl Messerschmidt and bassist Mike Polce) and one late bloomer (singer Rachel Adele Cabaniol), is a new band. Sort of: they got together two summers ago, they've already played a number of gigs, and on June 21, at Hartford's Arch Street Tavern, they'll play a CD release party for Lost in the Patterns, an album of eight original songs. All of which suggests that Cabaniol, a photographer and karaoke enthusiast with a music theater background, isn't really all that new at the band thing.
When I met with the members of PMP last week, Cabaniol mentioned she's comfortable on stage, maybe more than anywhere else in the world. But before she agreed to front PMP, she needed encouragement from Messerschmidt, who's also her husband (and String Theorie's bassist). That and alcohol. "Karl would get me drunk and he'd start playing guitar and stuff would come out," Cabaniol said. "It's not a format I was used to. But I'd come up with vocal melodies and Karl would interpret it on the guitar. We communicate well that way."
Two years ago, wanting to play loud rock guitar, Messerschmidt posted a blurb on Facebook looking for a drummer. "I still had an unresolved relationship with the guitar that I wanted to get back to," he said. "In high school all I did was jazz and musical theater. This is the first time I got to play what I listened to in the car."
Bojanowski, a Berklee grad and longtime member of Novus Dae, responded. "[Novus Dae has] been together forever, over a decade," Bojanowski said. "This was something fresh, something new... It keeps me versatile. I get to experiment more, figure stuff out." (His girlfriend, the other members said, calls PMP his "mistress band.") Polce, guitarist for thrash-metal outfit Obliteratron and who also runs a freelance sound company, was the last to join. When I asked him to describe PMP's sound — a tough question for anyone in a band — Polce had nothing. "When I worked at a radio station, we used to get those promos with 'RIYL' on the cover," Polce said, "meaning 'review if you like' followed by two or three bands. I can't come up with anything I would put on our album cover."
If Cabaniol's music theater background and vocal training taught her about singing, karaoke lured her out of her shell. She's at home singing Fiona Apple, Alanis Morrisette and Tracy Bonham, all of whom seem to have influenced her own music. On my advance copy of Lost in the Patterns — eight confessional, modern rock songs recorded over two weekends at Plainville's Strong Force Productions — Cabaniol's voice rode high in the mix: she's given all the room she wants, and there's faith in her abilities.
That trust is not misplaced; only "The Trip," a spoken-word piece over a early-'80s riffs layered with psychedelic swirls, struck me as a slight misstep, and Cabaniol struggles a little with the complicated melody of "Emily." But the good moments — songs like "Mia," "Last Breath of March" and "Bubblegum"; the jazzy "The Trappings of Memory and a Broken Boy"; Messerschmidt's caustic solos; Bojanowski and Polce's unwavering churn — far outweigh the slightly less-than-good. There's room to grow, and all of it makes you want to hear the tracks played live, bouncing off the energy of a good audience.
"We didn't want to do anything that felt contrived," Messerschmidt said of the songs. "I wanted to see whatever would come out. We've thrown a lot of things at the wall to see what would stick. I feel like if we keep going it's going to converge into something unique, and we don't know what that's going to be."
The local music scene, Cabaniol said, has been "a lot more accepting than I felt in the theater community. It has allowed me to express myself more, harness my creative energy more. I've got a lot of awesome guys helping me." And although her college years were a "disaster," they've given her reams of material to sing about.
"When I get on stage, I'm able to tell that story and to express every emotion I feel," Cabaniol said. "It's therapeutic."