Rogue Valley CD-release at First Avenue, 8/13/10

Categories: Last Night
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Photo by Steve Cohen
Rogue Valley are now officially halfway through their ambitious journey of releasing four albums in the span of 12 months, and what a journey it has been. Back in April they brought a grandiose and theatrical album release show to the Fitzgerald that even included a high school marching band, and they returned with slightly less fanfare to the First Avenue Mainroom on Friday night to celebrate the release of their second disc, The Bookseller's House.

Unlike their show at the Fitz, in which their "openers" Jeremy Messersmith and JoAnna James were folded into Rogue Valley's performance as collaborators, Friday night's show was more of a straight-ahead rock show with individual sets by openers Total Babe and Communist Daughter. It was the first time in the Mainroom for both bands, and Communist Daughter especially shined on the big stage, causing the crowd to swell to its largest point of the evening and sing along to many of the songs.

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Photos by Steve Cohen
On Communist Daughter's debut, Soundtrack to the End, much of the focus is trained on lead singer Johnny Solomon's lyrics and melodies, with his bandmates harmonies' whirring like an atmospheric, echoing undercurrent. Live, however, the harmonies take on a new significance, especially between Solomon and Molly Moore, who acts as the Emmylou Harris to his Gram Parker and creates a sense of balance that is really extraordinary. And when the rest of the band chimes in with their own harmonies and hand claps, it's hard not to want to join in, too; even in their more muted moments their performance was downright jubilant.

Rogue Valley were up against a few challenges at this show: Not only was the energy of Communist Daughter's set hard to follow, but the band has set the bar ridiculously high for themselves. The band brought in a few similar elements from their show at the Fitz, setting up a full bookshelf, phonograph, and gumball machine behind them, but the props seemed more distracting than they did at the theater, sticking out in the black expanse of the stage. A pair of dancers (including Rogue Valley bassist Linnea Mohn's sister Eva, who some might remember as the singer from Coach Said Not To) also seemed somewhat lost on the big stage, and with the exception of a song that they spent bouncing on trampolines they were swallowed up in the dark shadows behind the band.

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Photos by Steve Cohen
Rogue Valley mixed several tracks from this spring's Crater Lake into their set of newer material, starting out strong with the expansive "Red River of the North." As with their show earlier this year, the band's choral harmonies and lush soundscapes sounded stunning in the big room. But something was missing, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it; the momentum slowed, the songs started to sound a bit repetitive, and sadly the crowd had started to dissipate by about halfway through the set.

Perhaps it was intentional, but the band took a long time to build into their first climax, and it took most of the performance to arrive at the more upbeat songs from this summer's The Bookseller's House. "Racecar Driver" was a standout and one of the most exciting points of the night, as was a song that featured Mohn's soulful and powerful voice (I always knew she could sing, but wow! Not like that).

The band came back for an encore and played one of lead singer Chris Koza's older songs, "Straight to Video" off his 2008 solo release The Dark, Delirious Morning, bringing the energy way up for the finale and ending the show on a high note.

Personal bias: I've been following Koza for about five years now, and have attended all but one of his CD-release shows throughout his career. The show wasn't bad in any respect, but paled in comparison to some of his previous shows.
The crowd: Young and fairly tame.
Overheard in the crowd: "That Communist Daughter set was fucking spiritual!"
Random Notebook Dump: I only caught the tail end of Total Babe's set, but they seem to get better every time I see them.

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