Warmed not nearly enough by the fire and accompanied by a whispering paper mill, senior Alex Babbitt, Wild Firth and Riverbug performed short sets for a few dozen listeners at the SLUG fire pit on Thursday, April 30. Babbitt and Wild Firth mixed garden-appropriate acoustics with an electronic wash, and Riverbug appeared before an audience for the first time.
The show began with Babbitt’s set. After two songs with acoustic guitar, including an Angel Olsen cover, Babbitt switched to a sampled and remixed soundscape. That sonic expanse conveyed, to my ears, the destruction of a vital forest and a choir reckoning with the technological singularity. As an encore, Babbitt—guitar again in hand—meditated on wordless lines, allowing his voice to drip or hover beyond established melodic expectations.
Wild Firth followed with a similarly “acoustic” set. With only sophomore Ridley Tankersley’s acoustic guitar and junior Michael Felzan’s hand drum as new additions, the band’s slightly altered sound seemed to reflect a simple change in scenery—from basement to garden fire pit—more than anything else.
Junior Will Fraser’s poignant, reverbed voice tossed subtle dissonances toward a growing crowd while Tankersley drew close to the fire. Wild Firth will forever be indebted to the fearless audience member who brushed a glowing ember from Tankersley’s strumming, sweatered arm.
One particularly striking song grew from Babbitt’s—now on the bass—sparse, crystalline harmonics, accompanied by Felzan with a small handful of jingling bells. After Tankersley joined with similar harmonics, Fraser jumped in with a shining mess of sound. The texture coalesced in due time before receding to an even more disparate sound than before.
With smoke pouring past their red and blue lights—and, most likely, into their eyes and throats—the five members of Riverbug debuted their material.
In each of their songs, rhythmic tension would give way to more standard meters over the course of multiple varied sections. One song, named “7/8” for its initially unbalanced meter, achieved a more balanced meter in material that—with senior keyboardist Tim Carrigg’s grandiose, cascading arpeggios—suggested catharsis.
This is a driving musical factor for senior guitarist, vocalist and song-writer Luke Rivard, who explained that, for him, rhythmic tension can be as compelling as harmonic tension.
Rivard and junior Cate Bentley shared vocal duties; in one striking moment, an unexpected swoop from Bentley elicited an audibly positive reaction from the audience. Carrigg and sophomore bassist Jakob Heinemann filled out their chordal sound, which typically featured grand harmonic rhythms marked off by jazzed-up punctuations. Mostly with the pads of his fingers, senior drummer Dan Reifsteck contributed an even, low-key percussive undercurrent.
According to Rivard, the idea for the band sprouted during a music and entrepreneurship class taught by Dean of the Conservatory of Music Brian Pertl. “The class was basically me building confidence to actually put the group together,” admitted Rivard after the show.
Assembling Riverbug was not difficult. “I know their voices pretty well, on their instruments,” explained Rivard. “Aside from being some of my best friends, they’re all amazing musicians. I knew this particular group of people would get along together.”
As for the name and the mysterious logo, which appeared as chalk drawings throughout campus on the day of the concert, Rivard points to his habitual journaling. “I had finished writing a very deep, provocative journal entry,” said Rivard. After thinking the entry over, he “ended up just drawing that, just like a doodle, and I just wrote Riverbug underneath.”
The SLUG fire pit is not a typical venue for campus band performances, for reasons witnessed on Thursday. Some band members described not being able to hear themselves in that environment and setup, perhaps leading to the occasional lack of ensemble cohesion that Wild Firth otherwise always exhibits. The fluctuating outdoor climate may account for Rivard’s guitar tuning issues, and it can most definitely account for each player’s cold hands.
With plenty of acoustical forethought and preparation—and a warmer night—the fire pit could become a viable option for band performances, such as Riverbug’s second show.