Hurley’s was unusually crowded on Saturday night, April 5th, for the long-anticipated debut of local band Cities Over Seas. At 10 minutes past 8pm, just as the crowd was getting anxious for music, warm-up act Meredith Atkinson took the stage. Atkinson, the titular “Mouse” of Mouse and the Love and Light Orkestra, played a solo set, accompanied only by her acoustic guitar. Her cloyingly sweet voice belted out academic, polysyllabic lyrics, reminiscent of literature-loving romantics, The Decemberists. She sang songs of love and loss, and yet she kept an ingratiating smile on her face, regardless of the gravity of some of the lyrics.
Cities Over Seas came onstage and were greeted by their enthusiastic, already established fan base. The audience was mesmerized by the familiar sound of Doug Campbell’s ethereal, mellow vocals in a new context: one of ambient guitar, bass lines, and beats. Campbell rose to the occasion, delivering the vocals with as much emotion as a solo show, with Matt Durkin’s harmonies supporting them even more. The song “Sand Sculptures” washed over the audience and filled the entire room with sound, enhanced even further by the pre-programmed material that was recorded for the album and played simultaneously. The album title track, “National Phantom,” was appropriately characterized by a haunting piano line and languid, slide guitar. After the somber title track, the band plowed into an energetic pair of songs to end the set: “Time Bombs” and “The Kitchen Party” (to which an enthusiastic concert attendee shouted, “I love this song!” after presumably hearing it on their website). Newcomers Cities Over Seas proved that they have the flexibility to be diverse and the ability to transcend genre stereotypes. One of the most refreshing things about this band was that they clearly were enjoying making music. The musicians of Cities Over Seas smiled and interacted with each other and the audience.
The most obvious benefit of seeing this band live, as opposed to recorded, is the fact that the pre-programmed musical material only colors the live show: it doesn’t define it. On some of the recordings, the electronics and synthesizers are almost overdone, and the real musicianship gets buried. Chelsea Wischerth, Freshman Geology major, thought “the electronic tracks definitely gave them their unique sound, but more importantly made it more pleasing to the ear and made it more fun to dance to.” Adam Conforti, Junior Music Education major, agreed, “they were a fun band with great energy.” A crowd of 88 definitely spoke volumes to the benefit of using the internet and word of mouth to advertise.
Wired after an intense first set, Alex Butler, bassist for Cities Over Seas, cited the chemistry of the band members as the key to their success. Alex Butler, along with Craig Marrer and Matt Durkin had all played together previously in the now defunct band Slow Release. “We wanted to still play together…and I’d always wanted to play with Doug [Campbell],” said Butler, so it was only natural for the group to click. Joe Parker, drummer, was added into the mix, and the vision was realized. Bulter and Marrer credited Radiohead, The Postal Service, Ratatat, and jokingly, Rush, as influences on their music.
Madstop Records A&R Executive, Jared Brickman, is extremely excited to welcome Cities Over Seas to the label. “This band comes at a great time,” said Brickman, noting the increasing influence of electronics in indie music. Cities Over Seas is “an awesome step in the direction the label wants to go,” and is going to target the market that Madstop has always been interested in reaching. When asked what has made this project such a success, Brickman stated, “This is music that we [Madstop Records] really truly believe in.”Cities Over Seas’ debut album, “National Phantom,” is slated for release during the week of April 20th. It will be available for purchase at the College Bookstore, as well as Northern Music in downtown Potsdam. You can listen to tracks from the album at the band’s myspace, http://www.myspace.com/citiesoverseas