VAC Audience Puzzled By Nera

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Nera on stage at VAC
Though they would like to think they do, bands never truly defy description. But sometimes they do make it difficult. Nera, a relatively new Boise group that combines goth, circus, new wave and horror themes under a rock banner, is just such a band.

Their lyrics focus heavily on "boneyards" and a variety of nightmarish creatures and scenarios, sung with the sort of deep rock and roll warble that evokes the sound of a theremin. Beneath that is a fairly standard rock guitar and drums with keys that ape the modes and themes of circus and vaudeville standards. Take the Misfits, combine them with Nick Cave and Les Claypool's solo work, then set them to work scoring a remake of a Vincent Price film. That's not exactly Nera, but it's about as close as simple comparisons are likely to get.

That oddness is the band's greatest strength. In a scene dominated by indie rock and the influence of Built to Spill, they've chosen to go somewhere else altogether, and they are at their best when they are at their weirdest. "Old Man Jones," which featured a back-and-forth conversation between the bassist and keyboardist over an evil-sounding twinkle on the guitar and thunderous rolls from an orchestral kettle drum, was easily the best song they played that night. Its "deep weird" was sadly, in the minority. Most of Nera's songs let the vocals be spooky and weird while the core of the songs remained distorted rock guitar chords.

It is also fantastic to see a local band embrace the inherent drama in their music and make an effort to impart it into their performance through posture and lighting. But not every effort works out. The trouble was not everyone in the band seemed to have the same conception of what they were collectively gunning for on a composition level. It was most apparent in the keyboardist's choices in face-paint. It didn't stand out as much as apart from the rest of the group. And that principle was illustrated more subtly in each member's execution of their role within the total sound. Some of the guitars felt out of place. Much of the drumming seemed more suited to heavier music. The vocals went rogue. The keys were overbearing at times.

There is no doubt that the individual members of every band bring different influences to a sound, but the magic comes when those nuances combine into a unique flavor rather than compete. It's not that the keyboardist paints his face, it's that audiences are left wondering why he's the only one. It becomes a distraction. And Nera's sound is full of them.

For now anyhow.

As mentioned before, the band is still relatively new, having played their first show in October. And with a demonstrated taste in something totally different paired with a flair for the dramatic, it will be interesting to see where they end up.

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