Live Review: Black Hills @ Black Cat, 5/23/12

Knowing that a band is essentially a one-man show makes the live experience, with many other folks joining said one-man show onstage, potentially very interesting. Such was the case with Black Hills, the (mostly) solo recording project of former DC stalwarts Bellman Barker's Aaron Estes. Being so heavy on the slinky chill, I wasn't totally sure what Estes and guests would get up to when they took the stage at the Black Cat. As it happens, I ended up being rather pleasantly surprised. 

Live, the influences of bands like Air and Royksopp on Black Hills was quite clear, but the extra manpower (bass, guitar, keys, and drums) really gave the songs an unexpected level of intricacy and richness. And we all know how I feel about it when dudes can get into some higher vocal ranges, don't we? I was really digging the way the band ventured down different roads sonically, from super chilldreamscapes to songs more entrenched in indiepop with a roughness around the edges. "Quiet Ghosts," for instance, with its slinky sass and shimmy, was given an extra kick thanks to the bass and the guitar. 

Estes is a natural born frontman, affable and accessible, but also aware of how to get down to business. Small talk betwixt songs kept the set moving along nicely, and kept folks engaged. I found myself thinking that I was enjoying the music even more than I had on first blush on record. The ethereal "In My Dreams" was a live favorite, bleepy and floaty and reminding me (live moreso than on record) of The Kings of Convenience and Turin Brakes. There's a lightness to most Black Hills songs, and I noted that they had an air of 50s b-movie meets French lounge to them. 

Another favorite moment in the set was the cover of Goldfrapp's beautiful "Clowns," a song that could possibly be considered "difficult" to cover, given Allison Goldfrapp's breathy vocal acrobatics. Estes gamely took on the falsetto and I'd say the cover was a rousing success. "Glass" was another fine effort, less icy than the recorded version but still giving off plenty of that chillwave vibe. When it was all said and done, I was pretty impressed. I look forward to hearing more out of these Black Hills


[photo by Megan Petty]


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