Words by Vicki
Sometimes the best concerts are the ones you go into with no expectations. Earlier in 2012, I went to see Other Lives, thanks to a cheap ticket and the knowledge that soon after the show, the band was slated to go on tour with Radiohead. I hadn’t heard anything else about the band, but that was enough to pique my curiosity. I had no way of knowing I was about to see the best live show of my year. Countless concerts later, this pleasant surprise still ranks highest on my year-end list, so when the band came through Pittsburgh again last month to promote a new EP, I was there.
Other Lives’ second album Tamer Animals is dense and shadowy, it has an ominous feel. In this way, they’re a natural choice to play alongside Radiohead, and the lead singer, Jesse Tabish, has a voice that could double for Thom Yorke’s. Like Radiohead, each of Other Lives’ songs sounds layered and complex, with unusual structuring. Given all this, one might expect that the live show would be stripped down in some way, that all of the moving pieces and instruments would make it near impossible to recreate onstage. The band’s solution to this problem is to put each member in charge of multiple instruments, and their live renditions end up surprisingly close to the recorded version. Other Lives is a five-piece band, but if you were standing upstairs at Brillobox with your eyes closed you’d be tricked into thinking there were at least double that many musicians onstage. The sheer amount of sound that comes from them is unbelievable. It feels like seeing a severely understaffed orchestra. The sound is there, though it seems unreal that it can be produced from only five people.
For the second time in 2012, Other Lives crammed onto the Brillobox stage, the floor a jungle of wires, equipment stacked everywhere, leaving barely enough room for the band. To begin the show, the guitarist picked up a trumpet to play the first notes of “Dark Horse,” then put it down to switch to keyboards, all with the guitar slung around his back. He’d also turn out to be a violinist at one point in the night. Though each bandmate was pulling double or triple duty, it’s clear that Other Lives is a well-oiled machine. The band played through the bulk of Tamer Animals, sometimes lacing songs together without stopping in between. I remembered “As I Lay My Head Down” from the last show as the point I realized the band was going to be great, and it delivered again. Something about the way the thump-thumps of the drums reverberate through the room, how the song gets quiet and slows before launching into the chorus, and cellist Jenny Hsu’s voice on backing vocals, it all melds perfectly together. Another highlight is “Desert,” a song that is so hypnotic and otherworldly, when I first heard it, when Tabish sings “All of your city lights turn your brightest day into sleepless nights,” I felt like I was being sung into some kind of trance.
Other Lives played the bulk of Tamer Animals, as well as a new track from their new EP Mind the Gap, but when it was about time for the customary encore, Tabish explained the band wouldn’t be leaving the stage. “We’ll probably trip and unplug something, so we’re going to stay here and play you all our songs,” he said to a cheering crowd. By my count, they’d played most of the album already, and ended up playing 9 of the 11 tracks. As the show came to a close, Other Lives announced they’d be taking a break from touring to record a new album early next year. With new material on the way, I hope to see Other Lives back in Pittsburgh again next year.