If you measure bands according to the number of people turned off after one listen than Danielson might be the best band touring today. When their highly acclaimed album Ships was released in 2006 I thought it was terrible. Absolutely terrible. On Tuesday I gave the band a second chance. I was going to see Marnie Stern at Mohawk and they were playing before she took the inside stage. I wanted to understand why they had such loyal fans and why sites gave their albums such effusive reviews. I listened to their newly released 28-track anthology (Trying Hartz) and to my surprise I liked it. The live tracks highlight Daniel Smith's engaging personality and the band's quirkiness comes off as fun instead of grating (especially on songs like "Rubbernecker" and "Flip Flop Flim Flam"). In a span of 2 hours I went from completely dismissing the band to looking forward seeing them live.
Perhaps the most distinctive thing about the band is Daniel Smith's voice. How can I even describe it? It's a bizarrely high pitched. I first found it annoying but then I became mesmerised by it. I couldn't understand how a dude could sing like that (my guess: football to the groin). Each song was punctuated with a series of shrieks, cries, and odd yelps.
Danielson doesn't look like your average indie rock band. The seven members all had on matching uniforms from their hats down to their one of a kind shoes (they were custom made in exchange for a song). The lyrics have a decidedly Christian bent but you'd have to be a Satanist not to appreciate their take on indie-gospel-rock. There are lots of twists and turns, jagged guitars, plentiful percussion, and layered vocals. Some may find the music, squeaky falsetto voice, and matching outfits a little creepy. Maybe it's just a coincidence that I saw Danielson near the 30th Anniversary of Jonestown but I think Smith and Jim Jones share certain traits. They're instantly likable and very persuasive. Smith had the audience involved in almost every song. There were clap alongs, snap alongs, and sing alongs. One song was just a drink along. Smith is like the Pied Piper. People love his music and obey his instructions. This is not to say he's going to start a church and misuse Kool Aid (if anyone starts a cult it'll be Dan Deacon). Smith just knows how to put on an engaging performance. He looked like he was enjoying every second on stage. It was a nice contrast to the brooding young rockers I often see at shows.
If you're not familiar with Danielson (or the Danielson Famile) here's the trailer for a documentary film that was made about the band and family. They seem too odd to be real. They're like a religious version of the Partrich Family (only weirder, if that's possible).
Danielson might not be for everyone but I found them compelling. They're certainly not terrible like I first thought. They're talented and unique which is more than you can saw for most indie bands out there today.
Postscript: I didn't stick around for Marnie Stern. I thought she went on at 11:00 but it turned out to be closer to 1:00 AM. Fortunately, she played an in-store show at Waterloo Records yesterday. A review of that show will be up tomorrow.