John Mark Nelson CD release at 7th St. Entry, 8/12/12

John Mark Nelson CD release at 7th St. Entry, 8/12/12
Photo by Erik Hess

John Mark Nelson
With Observer Drift
7th St. Entry, Minneapolis
Sunday, August 12, 2012

See Also:
John Mark Nelson channels folk-pop sophistication
John Mark Nelson makes early Minneapolis impact via Bandcamp

Observer Drift making chill waves with escapist debut

Although the 7th St. Entry doesn't do "New Band Night" anymore, that's exactly the vibe conjured up by a night featuring two local acts who have accrued more press clippings than actual live performances. With baroque pop breakout John Mark Nelson and chillwave rocker Observer Drift in the house, there were plenty of proud parents and classmates in the house to see how a couple of Bandcamp darlings would translate to a live setting.

John Mark Nelson CD release at 7th St. Entry, 8/12/12
Photo by Erik Hess

With his brother Matt ("Not like M. Ward") handling a keyboard console dealing out beats and loops, Observer Drift's principal member Collin Ward did his best to construct a three-dimensional version of his bedroom recordings captured on the dreamy electronic pop of early 2012's Corridors. Clearly enjoying himself, Ward flashed regular smiles out to the audience, and struck convincing poses while hammering on his guitar. His head bobbed with youthful energy, and an echo treatment on his mic matched the ambient quality of his voice on the record.

John Mark Nelson CD release at 7th St. Entry, 8/12/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Two of his best tracks, "Corridors" and "Warm Waves" proved to be the highlights of the set. There was a lengthy moment during another song when some audible (and seemingly unintentional) distortion kicked in, but Ward played through it and didn't seem rattled. Live drums (and more of a full-band experience) would do Observer Drift well to make the songs feel more like they're actually happening live. Also, hearing where the songs head, in terms of experimentation, after more gigs is an intriguing prospect.

After Observer Drift occupied about 20 percent of the stage, John Mark Nelson's ten-piece band was jammed in tight. With a strings section, an upright bass, drums, bells, keyboards, and more occupying every single square foot, it might have been even more crowded onstage than the admittedly packed room. Unsurprisingly, Nelson's songs are equally dense in harmonies, rhythmic flourishes, and gap-filling interludes from his backing cast.

John Mark Nelson CD release at 7th St. Entry, 8/12/12
Photo by Erik Hess

These melodies recall a wealth of large-ensemble outfits, including the Polyphonic Spree, Bodies of Water, Arcade Fire, Andrew Bird, Beirut, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. And, what's scary about this undeniably precocious young band Nelson has assembled is that they're already proficient with the material off Nelson's 89.3 The Current-thumped sophomore release Waiting and Waiting in a way that many players never achieve in a lifetime.

Pull a bunch of musicians who appear to have extensive choral and orchestral experience in their backgrounds, and you get great listeners, perfectionist execution, and a natural comfort onstage. As they plowed through the album's ten tracks -- and took breaks while Nelson gave effusive thanks to the crowd -- the miscues were miniscule. Tops were the complex xylophone-enhanced passages of "Worst to Forget" and the accordion-led "Beating in My Heart." And, by the time local radio pleasure "Reminisce" came along, a friendly crowd was filled with hearty cheers.

John Mark Nelson CD release at 7th St. Entry, 8/12/12
Photo by Erik Hess

If there is to be a criticism, it's that the level of concentration and earnestness across the stage was so great that Nelson and co. came off a tad too buttoned up. (His pristine short-sleeved oxford and well-kept beard played into that too.) As the undeniably talented band gets to spread out more, literally and otherwise, there will hopefully be more improvisation and happenstance to be had. The material certainly has room for it.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Although both Observer Drift and John Mark Nelson share little in how they sound, it was a strong pairing of promising young acts. The live presence of both will not soon be forgotten.

Random Detail: John Mark Nelson already has an extensive amount of merch.

The Crowd: Passionate to the point of spilling drinks on my leg, cheering at even the slightest microphone adjustment, and happier than most to be out late on a Sunday night.

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