On February 8th at the Drake (Underground), Gems came to town. The crowd was small, but enthusiastic, as it watched the band Smoking Bells perform as the opener. The Nirvana-like, hollowed out echo-y vocals with strong feedback and heavy guitars was mixed in interestingly with electronics and synths. The fusion created a very textural sound. With drum plus bongo plus drum machine, the sound was almost too big for the room, and created a sort of distortion expected at a large outdoor stage.
Is loud always bad? Certainly not, and Smoking Bells confirmed this with their very beat heavy music, with electronics making up the majority of their sound and leading the crowd to the conclusive opinion that guitars aren’t the only key to good music.
Enter Gems, taking the night in an equally loud (I was standing near the speakers so perhaps my opinion is a bit biased), yet fundamentally different-sounding direction. Immediately the difference was held in the vocals, with Gems’ vocals consisting of a very deep and heavy female (Lindsay Pitts) and equally dark male (Clifford John Usher) vocalist.
The performance was comprised of expertly orchestrated melodies and synth, with a beautifully played fender telecaster (the same guitar used by Prince!). Even the monochromatic outfits added to the magnitude felt from the stage. And it’s true, the sheer magnetism emanating from the duo was almost overwhelming. Half the show was spent enraptured by Lindsay while the other half was spent being stared down by the penetrating gaze of Clifford John. Glasses shattered, although that was possibly from the bass alone.
For a small venue with a relatively small crowd, Gems held nothing back, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Some songs seemed to stretch on for ages, and when they ended the silence filled the room oppressively.
Goldfrapp, an electronic duo formed in 1999, came out with an album just last year, but the band lacks the grounding, fundamental feature that I think Gems has found in their male counterpart, Clifford John, who plays so passionately on the guitar.
You could have waited all night for the hit, the anticipation, the trepidation, that could be felt through the crowd, but the hit never came. This tease, this enticement alone, is enough to make me hungry for more.
Emily Fox | @foxyfoxe