Visuals: from high notes to heavy subjects
When most indie-rock bands cover a classic pop song, they usually do it with a wink and snark, upending its canonical foundation as if gleefully disrespecting their elders while simultaneously playing a tune that everybody - truth be told - loves deep down.
After the Boston-by-way-of-New Hampshire outfit the Everyday Visuals had returned to the Great Scott stage Saturday night for the first of two encores, singer-songwriter Christopher Pappas sat down at a keyboard to lead his band through a stunningly precise reading of the Beach Boys hymn, "God Only Knows," interlocking vocal harmonies and carefully arranged musical flourishes perfectly intact. Then, as if to up the ante and mark the celebratory occasion of the group's CD release party, Pappas called out for his comrades to tackle the song's intricate cross-melodies a cappella. The result was rapture; pop ecstasy suspended in suddenly rarified air.
More than any other of the dozen-plus songs of a superbly focused 75-minute set, that cover offered a revealing glimpse into the Everyday Visuals' subtly ambitious approach: making melodic rock music as deceptively intricate as it is transparently accessible, stirred with just the right admixture of cheeky irreverence and soulful sincerity.
Speaking of the latter, it was hard not to hear Pappas's "Florence Foster Jenkins," a touching tribute to an early 20th-century operatic curio who utterly lacked singing ability, as an autobiographical salute to artists who stubbornly strive against long odds (though Pappas, who struggles with a rheumatic disease called Ankylosing spondylitis, certainly does not lack for musical talent). "Oh the spirit, sing to me . . . give me strength like that," Pappas wished aloud in a gentle tenor. On the propulsive "Two Birds," from the band's 2004 sophomore album, he sang of being "a fading spark . . . I'm the boy who can't get out of bed."
This is not to say the evening carried a bleak or somber tone - not in the least. Visuals' guitarists Kyle Fredrickson and Eli Scheer, and drummer Joe Seiders rallied around Pappas for the bubbly and brightly new "Boom! Boom! Boom!" and an ecstatically dynamic "Limb From Limb" (both from the band's self-titled third album), which opened the set on a happy high note of hand claps and drum fills.
The Boston-based Taxpayer, second on a bill that also included Tiny Animals from New York, amply set the table with a three-pronged guitar attack that conjured a heady mix of careening shoegaze bliss, churning Built to Spill-esque sprawl, and emo-tinged pop writ loud and large.