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The Lowdown:

The Spring Standards

James Cleare, Heather Robb, James Smith

Based In:
Brooklyn, NY


Folk rock, indie rock


The Beachland Tavern

Concert Date:
May 13, 2012

Opening Acts:


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The Spring Standards perform at the Beachland Tavern

Rating: 9 out of 10



May 21, 2012


The Spring Standards: The Beachland Tavern, May 13, 2012

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad



The Spring Standards perform at the Beachland Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio. (l-r) James Smith, Noah Goldman, Heather Robb, James Cleare. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.


Three items of historical significance occurred on April 15, 2011: One, the federal government cracked down on internet poker, leaving this humble writer with a lot of extra time on his hands. Two, Ha Ha Tonka played the Beachland Tavern with the Spring Standards, both of them rocking the house so hard that at one point the building was in serious danger of slipping off its foundation and rolling into Lake Erie. Three, No Surf Music was founded. Now, the first two of these events inexorably led to the third, not least because it was Tonk frontman Brian Roberts who convinced me to stop conceptualizing this website and just dive in. Given their cameo role as present at the creation of No Surf Music, it was especially nice to welcome the Spring Standards back to the Tavern to both promote their new double EP yellow//gold and to demonstrate to the good people of Cleveland just why they are among the best live performers in indie rock today.

A Spring Standards show isn’t like anything else you’re likely to experience. Although their music is built around a folk rock core, they have as diverse a set of influences as any band in history, and in a single set swing wildly from one genre to another without ever missing a beat. Their individual songs also display wide range, often deftly maneuvering from sotto voce to ringing, powerful vocalizations, from lackadaisical melodies to thunderous energy.

The key to this musical dexterity lies in the fact that each member of the band embodies so many different talents, and they are therefore able to blend their skills in infinite combination to produce an incredibly varied experience. Band members James Cleare, Heather Robb and James Smith all write and sing, not only giving the group multiple leads, but the opportunity to produce the compelling three-part harmonies that are one of their trademarks. The band has no drummer, instead splitting the kit up among the trio and producing an exceptionally unique percussive array. Each member also plays multiple instruments, often in quick succession or even concurrently, making the sonic menu from which they can draw on for any particular song especially broad, as if each member were on stage in triplicate. Heather Robb, in particular, is a verifiable freak of nature, often playing keyboard with one hand, drums with another, and belting out a power lead vocal all at the same time. No human being should be able to physically accomplish this feat. She belongs in a fucking Marvel comic.

Jason Patrick Meyers et al. Just don't bother. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

Before I regale you with a description of their latest Cleveland performance, however, we must first discuss openers. The night began with local musician Jason Patrick Meyers attempting a type of best described as grunge meets cowboy boots. Imagine if Rhett Miller suffered a blow to the head and woke up thinking he was that pussy from the Goo Goo Dolls. Also imagine he lost all of his musical talent and somehow acquired a fiddle player. Now, there are many unwritten rules to making it as a musician, but as far as live performances go, I will propose the following two to be inscribed for all time: 1. Don’t suck up the stage. 2. Don’t steal the seat of the guy who is going to be reviewing you when he goes outside between sets to smoke. Both are common sense, but wholly escaped Mr. Meyers. The entire set was filled with whiny, ill-conceived lyrics delivered amid a soup of pop-country balladeering that should properly land him in jail. The set’s less-lowlight was a not uninteresting rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Wrote a Song for Everyone” that included a pretty decent rendition of the guitar solo in the middle. Otherwise, the only saving grace was the fiddle player (whose name I didn’t catch since I refused to interview the band while they were occupying my seat), who interjected sweet little bluegrass-inspired licks, most of which were unfortunately drowned out entirely under cacophonous bass, pulsing drums, high-speed, over-amped guitar and noxious vocals. As for my first proposed rule… it’s just common courtesy, you assholes. If someone leaves his stuff in a seat, it means he’s coming back.

Cleveland's Goodmorning Valentine provided an energetic, if perhaps slightly too hard-edged, lead in for the night's main act. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

Next up was another Cleveland-based band, Goodmorning Valentine. Though their name is grammatically questionable, they were a significant step up musically from the previous act. While the group’s vocals were often hard to decipher. Their music offers various incarnations of 60’s hard rock influences, with perhaps a bit of Hendrix in the fiery guitar licks and a definite Jim Morrison vibe from lead singer/guitarist Joey Beltram. Their high energy set featured thunderous drums, driving bass lines, and a strange interlude where Mr. Beltram strained and failed to come up with the title to the 1964 Shangri-Las hit “Leader of the Pack” (at least I think that’s what he was going for). Regardless, while they were likely too heavy a pairing as an opener for the Spring Standards, their set was both powerful and entertaining.

Once Goodmorning Valentine concluded, I was ordered to get “some sort of high-alcohol beer” for Noah Goldman, the Spring Standards’ touring guitar/pedal steel player (who’s actually a relatively decent human being despite being a Yankees fan), and the band took the stage.

Heather impersonates her own wide-mouthed puppet doppelganger from the video for “Queen of the Lot.” Photo by Jason D. ‘Diesel’ Hamad, No Surf Music.

They opened with “Here We Go,” a cut from the gold portion of their latest release that seems to draw equally from the Cars, the Clash and the Cure, but with a kick that Ric Ocasek, Joe Strummer or Robert Smith never imagined. The Standards’ own Smith, James, gave the song high energy, paranoiac treatment that makes it so appealing, and a great blazing guitar interlude made it a great way to get the crowd ready for a powerful performance. Several of those in attendance (though certainly not I) even kicked in with the freaky doll girl dance from the song’s video.

This was followed up by the song I maintain is the group’s best, Would Things Be Different’s “Queen of the Lot.” Although the studio incarnation relies heavily on a blaring brass section and a plodding tuba part, the live version becomes even more a showcase for Heather’s terrific voice, which alternated between light and precious and balls-out belting overtop her rompingly swinging piano. With it’s built-in melodrama and mini-opera feel, this song would easily fit into the repertoire of April Smith, if only Heather were wearing a tutu instead of a reclaimed blouse from the thrift store in the Beachland’s basement.

“Nightmare,” the leadoff track from gold provided a high-fucking-energy blast, complete with a stage-diving Noah and surreal clapped percussion that seemed to come from another world. This was followed by the James Cleare-led “Rusty Wheels,” a slow but operatic piece seemingly positioned on the set list just to demonstrate that the Spring Standards can pull off any transition.

A Spring Standards show is the very definition of "intensity," swinging from crest to trough like a turbulent musical storm. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

As further proof, they moved into one of the most awesome fucking kick-ass tunes you’ll ever hear, “The Hush,” from Would Things Be Different. This foot-stomping romp mixes old-timey instrumentation with seemingly meth-inspired verve and features James Smith doing his best Dan Tymenski vocal impression. A definite highlight of the show, this song had every person in the audience amped to the max.

To bring the energy back to a survivable level, the Standards entered a mellow progression, following up with two selections from yellow. “Only Skin” was simply beautiful, reeking of nostalgia as Heather’s soaring, gorgeous voice bore the load. “Chicago” managed to be equally full of ease and powerful, with an infectious, swinging beat kicking in toward the end to capture the audiences’ attention. This was followed by the chill track “Sharks,” a prime example of the band’s signature three-part harmonies, and then the spritely but almost relaxing “Goodbye Midnight.”

Still in a mellow mood but seeking to augment the sense of intimacy, the Standards then moved into the audience to perform an unamplified version of light but fast-strummed “Crushing Pennies,” the intricate vocals blending sweetly among the gathered crowd. This was followed by the mellow and melodic “Bells and Whistles” and the road trip dream “Wildfire Forrest.”

James Smith may be the first non-Jamaican musician to attempt to start a pick-up limbo contest in the middle of a concert. Photo by Jason D. ‘Diesel’ Hamad, No Surf Music.

Nearing the end of the set, the band kicked it back into high gear with a song that seems to draw its inspiration from any of a number of classic rock power female vocalists, “Moon Disappear.” Much of the spookiness evident on the studio version was replaced by pure powerful passion, with Noah shredding the ever-loving hell out of the guitar and bouncing around like a fucking Yankee-loving madman.

Apparently not content to leave only half of the audience unconscious, the band then broke into “Little Bug.” Since they are a co-ed group, I’ll have to bastardize an old turn of phrase and simply say that they rocked out with various sexual organs on prominent display.

I’ve seen few groups that can produce that kind of power, and no others that can turn on a dime like the Standards can. Taking pity on their fans, they pulled a complete 180, preventing the Beachland staff from having to clean massive amounts of blood off the floor, and closed the set with the relaxed and rather precious “So Simple So True.” It was as if they knew that their fans needed to come down off of their highs before the band left the stage. Although I’m not usually a fan of ending on a mellow note, it was definitely the perfect prescription and left the audience wanting more.

The Spring Standards' particular talent lies in taking their audience on an emotional ride, pulling them along through every note of every song. If you've never seen them perform live, you've got no idea what you've been missing. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

This was provided in the form of a one-song encore of Would Things Be Different’s “Not Again.” Driving and powerful, the song featured James Smith on trumpet and provided a perfect end cap to the night.

The Spring Standards are simply awesome live, going from 0 to 60 (and often back again) in the space of a few eighth notes and bending their way through musical genres with abandon. Much of the time, it’s not even so much what the songs are about as the way they make the listener feel on a guttural level, and their performances are so diverse that their constant musical metamorphoses can draw the listener through the full range of human emotion in a way that few other bands could hope to achieve. There’s something to appeal to everyone in their music, and any opportunity to see them perform is an opportunity to experience something truly epiphanic. Next time they come through town go check them out and I guarantee you’ll see something unlike anything you’ve seen before.

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