Inspector Owl brings danceable, nostalgic pop to LU-Aroo

Tom Pilcher

(Emily Mohr)

True to their avian-inspired name, Illinois indie-pop band Inspector Owl played the latest and final set of SOUP’s annual LU-Aroo music festival last Saturday night. The band has played the festival for the past three years, and their brand of danceable keyboard and guitar-driven pop always seems to appeal to Lawrence crowds.
Last Saturday’s concert was particularly special for me personally, too. As they played, I realized that I’ve been listening to Inspector Owl and the various other projects surrounding the five-piece band for six years now.
I grew up in Rockford, Illinois, a short car ride away from DeKalb, the college town where the band originated, so I have many fond memories of watching the band perform in church basements, community centers and even at Chicago’s well-known Wrigleyville venue, the Metro. My high school ska band even opened for them at our first concert.
As I was saying, Inspector Owl is a really fun band to see live. Their sound is influenced by more electronic-inflected dance-pop at times, shown in drummer Jesse Fisher’s pulsing 16th note grooves and the bassist Jason Thompson’s deep low end sound.
The first time I saw the group, they played as a trio of guitar, bass and drums, and even added an iPod with pre-recorded percussion and keyboard parts. A few keyboard players and a violinist later, the band has grown to five people, adding two more guitar players who also trade off keyboard and auxiliary percussion duties.
I’ve always really admired the sense of catharsis the band draws out of their songs. With five people and added pre-recorded parts, the quintet creates thick, textured music that at times includes violin, horns and electronic percussion parts on top of everything else.
All of these parts unite terrifically at the end of many of their songs, creating a great release for the tension built up throughout the rest of the song. “89,” their final song from Saturday’s set, which they also played the first time I saw them six years ago, serves as the perfect example of this catharsis.
As Fisher’s drumming and a pre-recorded electronic percussion part creates the foundation for “89,” bass, guitar, keyboards and violin eventually enter to create a driving, nostalgic melody line. By the time the band reaches the final chorus, every instrument seems to multiply, creating a densely layered, triumphant sound that fits perfectly with Wills’ nostalgic lyrics: “And you know, you’ll never change / you’ll grow, but you’ll always stay.”
Besides their unique sound, the band is also a great representative of the particularly vibrant music community in the Northern Illinois area. At LU-Aroo, Wills, Fisher and Thompson also played with Wolf Nation, a four-piece female-fronted rock band in the vein of Lucero and at times, Pavement. As if this wasn’t enough, Wills also plays with the Chicago indie-rock outfit Kid, You’ll Move Mountains, who played on campus last year.
Wills, Thompson, Fisher and company have released a few albums as Inspector Owl, the most recent being 2007’s “Life Finds a Way.” The album features more cathartic sing-alongs, densely layered instrumentation and highly danceable electronic-inspired beats. However, the live show is truly the best place to hear Inspector Owl, especially in a small church basement surrounded by 40 or so other people that just want to dance. Here’s to hoping that SOUP continues to bring this great group back to campus next year.

(Emily Mohr)

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