Canadian rockers Red Umbrella play well to a near-empty room

Tom Pilcher

There are lots of good things about going to a school of Lawrence’s size: the smaller class sizes, closer interactions with friends and professors, and many more. However, one of the bad things is how much trouble student organizations have getting people to show up to events.
Last Friday night, the Student Organization for University Programming sponsored a concert billed as “Music Therapy” in the Esch Studio room of the campus center. The concert featured Canadian pop-rockers Red Umbrella and singer-songwriter Alisa Turner, and almost no one showed up.
To be fair, a number of students came for Alisa Turner’s opening set but promptly left after she finished. This sort of reaction was totally warranted, based on the bland, unmelodic batch of generic singer-songwriter fare Turner sang and played piano on. As an opener, a band’s job is simple: get in, play your best songs, amp up the crowd for the headlining act, and get out.
Ms. Turner apparently only remembered the first rule. She spent as much time talking about her personal life between songs – if not more – as she did playing. Though she had a truly sad story about her finding out she had mercury poisoning, the sympathy generated did not make up for her subpar songwriting.
Unfortunately, most people had already left by the time Red Umbrella took the stage. The band had everything going against them, but they made the most of their set and played a well-written batch of pop-rock tunes that one would find hard not to enjoy at least a little.
Anyone who has ever played in a band knows that playing to fewer than 15 people can be as hard as playing to a stadium, and the band did not seem bitter that more people did not show up; instead, they appeared to enjoy themselves.
Utilizing the standard configuration of two guitars, bass and drums, Red Umbrella crafted an interesting blend of various rock subgenres ranging from the more indie-inspired end to the ready-for-the-dance-floor stomp of groups like Franz Ferdinand and The Killers circa 2004-2005.
One of the most interesting things about the band was the lead guitar player’s unique, well-placed melodic lines, which complimented the catchy songs well.
The lead singer sang clearly, with a voice that was a nice mixture of Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, William Beckett of The Academy Is… and Brandon Flowers of The Killers.
Though the group played very well and wrote generally interesting songs, I cannot help thinking that they would be more popular if their dance-floor brand of rock was still all the rage, as it was in the mid-2000s with Hot Hot Heat, The Killers and Franz Ferdinand. This is not to say the band was bad by any means, because everyone who stuck around seemed to enjoy them a lot.
Thus, poor opener aside, SOUP’s “Music Therapy” event was quite good, thanks to Red Umbrella’s tight and catchy set, but no thanks to the lack of crowd.