Words by: Dave Johnson
Photos by: Eliza Goldstein
It’s 7am and I’m en route to Berlin from a small town in Germany with a Mirage sticker in my jacket pocket. There’s a Retrolux, El Gato, and Locochino sticker in there too: I’ll be spreading Gainesmas cheer in Deutschland for the next couple of weeks before heading home for the new year.
I finally listened to Mirage’s new album on the way to the airport a couple of days ago. I picked up a copy at their album release show with Rayah and Velocirapture but it took me a while to actually have time to sit down with it. This isn’t really an album review, I’ll have to listen to it a few more times for that, but my overall impression of the CD is this: “Where’s the repeat button?”
Thinking back to that album release show at The Atlantic, I feel like it was one of those shows that was somehow built just for me. All three bands on the lineup are projects that I’ve been thinking about recently, so it was convenient to have them all playing together on the same stage.
If you’d walked in without reading the lineup you would know what kind of show to expect even before the music started. Besides Mirage’s awesome tapestry dressing the back of the stage, there was a health dose of Gainesville’s prog-rock scene represented in the crowd. Looking through a pair of augmented reality glasses, you might have seen Just Neighbors over at the bar, Boyfriend Material over by the stage chatting with Vrap and Mirage, Morning Fatty running sound and lights, Locochino talking about how they need to get their damn merch together, etc. The room was full of people who know what’s up.
Rayah opened the night and I was happy to see that my roommate had gotten there early enough to see them. They’re one of those bands that I took too long to find out about, an honest mistake considering their lack of social media or website presence. The first time I saw them was totally by accident and at a decidedly non-prog show at High Dive, this was my second time seeing them and they were really in their element at The Altantic.
The drummer’s synth and samples really tie the music together like The Dude’s rug. It’s the most obvious thing that Rayah does that’s a little different than average, but it’s not just a gimmick thrown in to stand out. They glued the set together with entrancing soundscapes and maintained a fluid set of music that was curious and intelligent. For me, it was exactly what I wanted out of a Rayah set and they felt great under Drew’s lights and fog (even if the fog machine does sound like something from a Universal Studios ride). Do yourself a favor and go see Rayah the next time you see them on a lineup.
[Side note: I’ve just arrived in Berlin and found my way to coffee and wifi. I’ve been in the area for a couple of days now and I’m not really sure if “the sun” is something that happens here. Only on Sunday, according to my barista.]
Next up, one of my long-time favorites but in a new form: Velocirapture sans-keyboard. If it was any secret, the cat’s out of the bag now: VRap no longer has keys in the band. I’ve talked to a few people about this and reactions have ranged from, “Nooo! How can that be?” to “Good, now I can hear the guitars better.” I’ve seen VRap a ton of times at house shows and bars and a couple of local festivals, so knowing that they were showing off their next evolution is something that made me cancel other plans I may have had.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say VRap felt a little naked at first, but this had more to do with my personal experience with the band than anything else. It only took a couple of songs for me to warm up to that new new though, because something that Velocirapture always does is crush it. Always. These guys are always so very on point that I was actually excited to see them have some technical difficulties during one of their songs. I selfishly like to see how musicians react to something going wrong, so even though one of their songs went off-script it was nice to see them push through and make it work. Go see Vrap, form your own opinion, but here’s mine: Dropping keys is not going to hurt them, but it’ll take established fans a little while to get used to it.
On to the main event: Mirage. If they haven’t already, they’re going to get a pretty strong reputation for not fucking around. When they first formed the project it was without vocals. I liked them a lot then, so when I heard they were adding a singer earlier this year I was actually worried. To me, it was a heavy gamble to add a vocalist to an already great progressive rock project and there was probably a better chance of screwing up a good thing than improving it.
Holy shit did they nail it with Tessa though. Seriously, the first time I saw them perform with a singer I went in as a skeptic and came out a believer. Their vocalist can sing well, sure, but that’s the easy part with music like this. You’ve got to be able to blend in with weird moods and guide a story that’s already being told without you. Luckily, for them and for all of us, that’s what Mirage has working for them now.
Black Bear Studio captured this with excellence on Mirage’s new album, so go find a copy of that and pay extra for it. What you don’t get to see on the album, though, is the gel. Mirage’s live show is comfortable, fun, and inspirational. One musician told me that he wished he had more time to write music after seeing Mirage’s set that night. No part of the band feels stagnant on stage, and when a member doesn’t have a part in one of the songs they don’t feel awkward while everyone else is playing. That sounds simple enough, but it can be difficult to pull off.
It’s apparent that the band puts a decent amount of thought into the presentation of their show. The “customer experience,” if you will. The set was designed to flow well visually as well as audibly. The first and last songs were performed without the singer on stage at all, which gave the set a nice opening/closing feel. The stage plot was embraced by synth and samplers, like the keyboards were giving the rest of the band a group hug. It was really an A+ show, and honestly it was worth way more than the $5 charged at the door.
The take-away from the Mirage, Velocirapture, and Rayah show was that I simply need more of that and soon. If you weren’t there then you really did miss out on something special, so make sure to go and see them next time. If you were there, then you already know and your job is to spread the word. One of the things I love about this town is how much the music scene supports each other. Thanks for that, I’ll see you at the next show.