Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Show Review & Interview - Oberhofer - Brillobox - 5/16/11 - Pittsburgh - Concert Review

The night was in motion—Oberhofer opened for Neon Indian last week at Brillobox. The members of Oberhofer moved spastically and confidently, with a swagger bolstered by five months of moving from city to city, honing their live stagecraft. Geographically, the two bands came to our bridged city from opposite ends of the country, Texas and New York. Each of them kept the crowd in constant motion—a welcome respite from the arms-folded cutouts struck by most audiences. Neon Indian played a surprisingly energetic set designed to hook the crowd. The band I really came to see, though, was Oberhofer.

A year ago, Brad Oberhofer was an unknown young musician making recordings in his basement and sending them out to music blogs. His music was catchy, compelling, and is steadily gaining an audience. I saw them here back in January, on the first date of their first real tour. Again in March, some friends and I caught the band again in Austin at SXSW; they were tighter, louder, and more powerful. Their show tonight once again shows that they are getting better and better.

I bounded up the stairs to interview Brad Oberhofer after the band’s set was over. He was sitting on a couch with a keyboard over his knees, coughing. “Sorry, I’m sick,” he said. Watching the show, I wouldn’t have guessed it. The band members—Brad, Pete, Dylan, and Matt—each dove headfirst into their performances. At times Brad played his guitar thrust toward the ceiling. On songs like “I Could Go,” the band produces a raucous energy which quickly subsides for tender moments of vocals and xylophone before exploding again into choruses of hooks and noise. The miles and weeks on the road have had an obvious impact on the cohesiveness of their live sound, their performance, and their connection with the audience.

I asked Brad what life on the road is like, and he told me that it is really life in a white, fifteen passenger van full of equipment. Brad joked (halfway seriously) that one day they will get tour support from a label and won’t have to drive themselves all day and all night. Of course, this would require that the band first sign to a label. “It’s been by choice that we haven’t signed a deal yet,” said Brad. “We haven’t been prepared. We’ve been looking for a label that is an inspiration to us. You can’t just sign to a label if you’re not inspired by them and how they fit with your music.” His caution is well-founded. Scores of bands, especially those with a good deal of buzz surrounding them, have had their sound swallowed by a label that over-produces their music, markets them wrong, or just doesn’t care enough about them. After prominent showcases as SXSW, a handful of other festivals, and months of touring, Brad thinks that they may have found a label they feel comfortable with. He hopes to be able to record an album this summer and get it out sometime in the fall. He excitedly told me about the dozens of songs that he has already written, some of which he has taken to the band, who he says always tinker with the sound make it even better.

Brad coughed and shifted the keyboard on his lap as we talked. “We drive all night sometimes, which is crazy.” He looked at me and laughed. “You know, I read this article recently that sitting is the primary cause of obesity.” I started to tell him that they get enough exercise on stage, and then I remembered all the time spent in the van. “Exactly,” he said. “Sometimes we’re in the van for like fifteen hours!” Road diets probably don’t help the cause. Pete, the drummer, wandered into the room for a beer and was happy to talk about road life and food. Brad and Pete were well-aware of Pittsburgh’s customary recommendation which greets every band to visit our city: get a sandwich at Primanti’s. They have done this (although I choose not share their verdict on it). Other useful information I gleaned: tacos at Torchys in Austin are phenomenal; Cracker Barrel is really good for breakfast, “but never for dinner. No.”

Night after night of shows in dark clubs and sleeping through the day might cause blur the cities together, but Brad said this really hasn’t happened for him. “You form sentimental attachments to certain places and people you meet, even though we don’t spend too much time in any given city.” He went on, “I usually have amazing times. You go on adventures after shows. You meet fun and eccentric people.” I ask for one of these memories, and he tells me about a night in St. Louis when they went sledding after a show at 2am. They met some people, drove out to a water basin, re-lit an abandoned bonfire, and sledded down a hill until they crashed into hay bales before hitting the water. These are the kinds of adventures Brad loves. Of course, he said, “Sometimes I just want to go to bed. Sometimes I need it.”

“What time do you guys get up on a normal day,” I ask. “2pm?” Pete laughed. “No, more like 5pm. But I don’t go to sleep until around 7am. I’m almost completely nocturnal.”

For a band that began as a one-man project, Oberhofer’s live show recasts Brad’s intimate songs into something different for the stage. I asked Brad about this relationship between his recorded music and the live sound. “They become two separate beasts entirely,” he said. He told me that a significant part of writing music is how he connects with it emotionally. When you add three more people to the mix, he said, there are more emotions and ideas to connect to that song, and it’s only natural that it will change it.

Emotional connection seems to dominate Brad’s approach to music. His own desire to connect emotionally to his music is equaled by his desire that listeners connect to it as well. There is a recognition that the live setting sometimes requires a different sound than the more intimate ways in which a listener experiences recorded music. On a night where they shared the stage with Neon Indian, I asked about his cover of “I Should Have Taken Acid with You.” “A good cover song is whatever is emotional for you. Any song that I cover, I try to simplify it to the point where I can emotionally connect to it, and then I start tweaking and adjusting it,” he explained.

Brad said that he is aware of how easily one’s sound changes as bands listen to one another, tour, and work with other musicians. He wants to maintain the uniqueness of his sound, and get that allow listeners to form their own emotions and sentimental attachments to his personal sound. Hopefully the next five months are as productive for the band as the last five have been and we start seeing some new music from them soon.

-Daniel Hammer


  1. This is really well written!