Milo Greene is a group of people, and Bahamas is just one person. It sounds a little backwards, but those, in fact, were the two acts that performed at High Noon last night. This was a show that demonstrated the pros and cons of lead singers; the first act involved someone who was formerly a backup musician but has since moseyed upstage to become a frontman. In contrast, the other act is composed of former lead singers and no designated frontman.
Bahamas is the stage name for Toronto's Afie Jurvanen. Although his musical resume includes guitarist duties for artists like fellow Canadian Feist, Jurvanen decided to start playing his own songs under the stage moniker Bahamas -- and for that, we can be grateful. To think we might have missed out on Jurvanen's own songs and command of the stage is truly be a shame. Jurvanen gathers inspiration for his songwriting from a different era -- a simpler time -- and it shows. Accompanied by only a drummer and two backup singers, Jurvanen was a Canadian cowboy last night, relaying genuine emotion for a common feeling: heartbreak. His two backup singers significantly helped convey this emotion during songs like "Overjoyed."
Jurvanen proved that he's incredibly capable of taking the lead. His stage presence engages you easily. It's so natural to believe in the words he's singing that you can't help but wonder if he's been withholding emotions all this time while performing back-up duties. It seems like he's bursting at the seams. During "Already Yours," Jurvanen shed musical layers until the crowd was left with the song's bare bones, only to build to a crescendo of chill-inducing aural pleasure a bit later. Although it was tongue in cheek, I think Jurvanen said it best when he joked, "I've got you now, Madison. This is rocking stuff, isn't it?"
Milo Greene is a five-piece group from Los Angeles. Though the quality of their vocal harmonies is comparable to that of Fleet Foxes, they also have the distinct advantage of incorporating a female vocalist. In the end, they sound like more of a cross between Fleet Foxes and Of Monsters and Men. The group, composed of former lead singers of different, previous bands, made a conscious decision to avoid having a lead singer, and to instead embrace a collective approach to singing and songwriting. Robbie Arnett, Andrew Heringer, Marlana Sheetz and Graham Fink all took turns as lead singer, and drummer Curtis Marrero stuck to percussion.
Although such an approach is certainly admirable, its feasibility is shaky; audiences naturally want to aim their attention at a focal point. Regardless, Milo Greene demonstrated tight, impressive vocal harmonies and instrumentation. They were good, but they weren't great, and their collective approach hurt them. With four lead singers, there's no differentiation; it's essentially like having four backup singers without a lead. That isn't to say their vocals weren't impressive; they just felt restrictive. The four singers seemed to stay within a comfortable range, which resulted in a lack of dynamics. Milo Greene could benefit from exhibiting vocal "outliers" to help convey interest and emotion in their songs.
Who should be lead then, you ask? If forced to choose, I'd vote for Graham Fink as frontman. Time will tell whether the band's anti-frontman approach can be successful.