Topshelf Records' Tour Tears Through Boston

Phillip Morgan ‘18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
A previous article by Emertainment Monthly let the good people know about Boston-based indie label Topshelf Records, their massive influence on the national indie rock scene over the past couple of years, and their first ever label-exclusive tour running from mid-September to early October. Recently, the label launched a four-pronged tour at Great Scott in Allston, and it was a tour not to be ignored.
First up was the indie/dreampop outfit Field Mouse split between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Brooklyn, New York, and one could tell from the exact moment singer/guitarist Rachel Browne casually, and almost dryly, greeted the audience with, “Hi guys. We’re Cee Lo Green,” that it was going to be a quirky set.
Out of all four bands that night, Field Mouse was quickest to engage with, and riff off of, shouts from the audience. Whether it was defending their hatred of the New York Rangers, guitarist Andrew Futral making fun of the audience’s reactions, or Browne announcing in flawless deadpan, “These next four songs are all disco tunes,” it was clear that this was a band who knew how to mess with the crowd and still play a fantastic set.
They weren’t the craziest band on stage, but Futral was always really into his lead riffs (he actually looked like he was disco dancing at times) and the drummer they had filling in for Tim McCoy on this tour sounded like an explosion behind the kit, constantly switching between traditional and matching grip while ripping through his drums. Though the vocal monitors in Great Scott could’ve been a lot better (spoiler: this will come up a lot), Rachel Browne did her best to be heard without straining herself, and she delivered with her more subdued, crooning vocal style that fit perfectly with the eerie sounds that reverberated from the band. Field Mouse actually released a new LP through Topshelf called Hold Still Life earlier this year, and you can check out their show opener “A Place You Can Return to in a Dream” below.

Next came post hardcore band Prawn from Ridgewood, New Jersey, and they did not disappoint. They didn’t engage the audience with banter quite like Field Mouse (in fact, none of the other bands did) but there was singer Ryan McKenna’s quick story about drummer Jamie Houghton’s tragic loyalty to the Pittsburgh Steelers as a brief comedic break. The energy behind their set more than compensated for the lack of repartee, as McKenna howled through the set like a man possessed and the rest of the band followed suit. Even by emo standards, their performance was exceptionally chock-full of emotion, complete with dramatic gestures that were always in sync with the song tempo. Their presence was so commanding that no one even moved while they were playing. It was just like looking at a piece of art, if a painting could strap on a guitar and rock out for 40 minutes. The most electrifying part of the quartet was Houghton’s drumming, because it looked like he was a second away from demolishing the 4-piece kit with his own ferocity. Prawn also dropped a new LP back in August via Topshelf entitled Kingfisher, and you can listen to stand-out track “First as Tragedy, Second as Farce” below.

After them were Baltimore, Maryland punks Diamond Youth, and they weren’t necessarily bad, just the least captivating. All four of the band members put everything they had into their set, and the energy was never lost for a second. Like every other band, they also thanked everyone for making it the first sold-out show in the tour, and thanked Topshelf Records. Despite their energy and humility, they never really engaged the audience like Prawn or Field Mouse did. Diamond Youth’s music, however, was not only top notch, but very intriguing. They had a completely different feel from every other band on this set, as they melded traditional 90s pop-punk with eerie sounds and chords reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age, while never losing their abrasive edge. The singer also sounded way different from everyone else on the tour, as he blended mid-range and creepy falsetto to channel even more QOTSA vibes. All in all, they weren’t the most conversational but their music was certainly intriguing. If nothing else, they were really into it and, at the end of the day, that’s all one can ask of a band. While they have no full LP’s out as of now, they did release an EP titled Shake earlier this year. You can check out the track “Red Water” here.

And finally, rounding out the evening was Brooklyn, New York’s A Great Big Pile of Leaves, and all singer/guitarist Pete Weiland had to do was go up onstage and quietly announce, “Hey everyone, we’re A Great Big Pile of Leaves” to get everyone in Great Scott to go nuts with excitement. Complete with an intricate rhythm section courtesy of drummer Tyler Soucy and bassist Tucker Yaro (albeit without quite the explosive drumming of Field Mouse or Prawn), a mellow chamber pop-esque vocal contrast between Weiland’s lower nasal voice and guitarist Matt Fazzi’s crooning falsetto, and danceable guitar melodies, this was a band deeply committed to just having a good time onstage. They didn’t have quite the emotional swells of Prawn, but they were every bit as energized and, unlike Diamond Youth, they made sure you knew it. The crowd responded in kind, as they were the only band that actually got people dancing near the front of the stage, and they made a point to constantly banter with the crowd about it and how much fun they were all having. Indeed, for a band whose lyrics are less than rosy and whose associates are considered less than upbeat, there was just this warm, fun atmosphere surrounding their entire set, which is something that can be hard to find at punk/indie shows. While AGBPOL hasn’t had new music for a while now, you can still check out the video for “Snack Attack” from the their 2013 LP You’re Always on My Mind here.

All in all, it was a fantastic show with four superb bands who all seem poised to make even greater music down the road, particularly Prawn and AGPOL. After this show, hopefully more people will know about the tour, the four bands playing it, and everybody currently signed to Topshelf Records, because not knowing would be to miss out on a bunch of cool bands on a super cool label that appears to only be going up from here.

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