Happy Days Are Here Again
If you ever hear that Dan Lichty is having trouble getting laid, there are a few things you must do without delay: Max out all of your credit cards on every decadence or vice you've ever craved. Inform your boss that you'd rather have a tarantula lay eggs in your ear than spend another millisecond in his or her presence. Then pay a little visit to the parents--or better yet grandparents--of a particularly evil former lover and proceed to rant about your ex's shortcomings in the boudoir.
Why such reckless self-gratification, you ask? Because if the time ever comes when Dan Lichty isn't getting any, there is something seriously wrong with the world. The end may very well be nigh.
Lichty's usefulness as an Armageddon barometer dawns on you in stages. A recent Tuesday evening finds him perched on a stool at the ridiculously huge practice space where his band Shadow Box rehearses on Central Avenue. Dressed in a cranberry-red silk shirt with sleeves just a bit too long for his thin frame, he cradles a Fender Telecaster in his arms, periodically picking a few soft notes. His brown curls veil his dark eyes each time he looks down at the fret board. His beard is just a few days past stubble. In short, he's a good-looking guy. But he's not that good-looking. None of his features, on its own, could usher in a plague of locusts if fate ever found him unattached. You could almost dismiss his appeal as fleeting--that is, until he opens his mouth to sing.
Lichty's voice has a sensuality that could make you feel impure for even considering his physical attractiveness. On Shadow Box's debut release, The Distance(Oliver Sweetpea Music), his shivering vibrato floats like an opium dream above the guitar-driven tracks laid down by the other three members of the band. On the album's final track, a plaintive, reflective ballad called "Breathless," he weaves minimalist phrasings through a halting piano in a classic crooner's voice, periodically descending into a low vibrato that leaves you dizzy. Comparisons to the late and now immortal Jeff Buckley are undeniable: Both men share a buttery-smooth tenor and a range that surpasses most mortals but never approaches shrill.
The fact that Lichty often drops phrases such as "the impetus of my emotions" into casual conversation might lead you to believe that he sings Shadow Box's dramatic lyrics as well as writing them. But the latter responsibility primarily belongs to Dmitry Iyudin--who, along with Lichty, plays guitar for the band. Slouching in a sunken couch not far from Lichty, Iyudin's eyes are transfixed on a cheap plastic globe that sits on the table in front of him. He runs his fingers over the section of globe that is home: He emigrated from Petrozavodsk, Russia, at the age of 15, and his barely perceptible accent lends his words a strange sort of credibility when he finally speaks.
"For seven or eight of the years that I've been here, I've always been on the edge of whether I'd be able to stay or not," he says. "I have to have a very positive, optimistic outlook on things. It's all about finding a place in the world." Iyudin points to the lyrics of The Distance's opening track, a relaxed yet poppy tune called "Possibilities" that recalls the Gin Blossoms before corporate radio killed them: "You need to find some peace of mind in a crazy world/If we could just believe in possibilities."
For Lichty, Shadow Box's songs are essentially an acknowledgement that things could be a hell of a lot worse, particularly for a bunch of twentysomething white guys in Middle America. "We don't want to sound like we're pissing and moaning about shit all the time. I really don't like to listen to that," he says.
Judging by their music, you could guess that what they do like listening to might include albums by Coldplay, Doves, or Echo and the Bunnymen. But their own music is better compared to a musical game of cat and mouse. Throughout The Distance, Iyudin, bassist Matt Uttech, and drummer Andy Blessing seem to delight in chasing Lichty's spiraling falsettos. Once caught, Lichty nestles into Iyudin's guitar work, which shimmers like lost coins found by the sun. Shadow Box understands the patience needed to effectively push and pull the intensity of a song. On "Inside the Machine," a wild flutter of warbling guitars threatens to dissolve the track well before its first chorus--yet when that chorus comes, the band crescendos to a plateau of sustained vocals held tightly by Blessing's insistent yet measured snare.
"We like to get our hands dirty, and we like to be clean and dainty. We like to be intense, and we like to be soothing--all that is important to a good band, which we need to be if we're going to make a living at this," Lichty explains. "If we could put food on the table and pay our bills by playing the First Avenues of the world, that would be amazing."
No doubt he'll be getting a little somethin' in the green room when that day comes. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will just have to wait.
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