The Annuals – Live at the Rock and Roll Hotel

This was my second time at D.C.’s Rock and Roll Hotel in the span of a month, this time to catch The Annuals. Technically the band goes without the “the,” but for the sake of reader-friendliness, I’ll be including the definite article. The show was on a Sunday night, which was curious given The Annuals’ considerably more prominent stature than most of the indie acts the venue sees. I suppose the R&R isn’t exactly the most prominent venue nestled in its H Street abode next to a dollar store that still advertises phone cards. Despite the drawback of low turnout and grudging reality of work for most the next day, The North Carolina indie band has a reputation for wild live shows and I wasn’t about to miss out on the fun.

Fall has finally come to D.C. after weeks of the summer heat pussy-footing around in an unwelcome nag. Unfortunately, the brisk breezes and crisp air translate into chilly nights and the 40-minute wait outside the venue during soundcheck wasn’t the most pleasant. During this dead time I was surrounded by a battalion of under-21s flirting by pushing and talking about sex like it was the holy grail. It was clear that the majority there were either college students who didn’t have to get up before 9:00 on Monday or high school kids who simply didn’t give a shit that they had to. After finally being admitted by a ponytailed dude wearing a Hot Topic gauntlet fit for eviscerating lions in the Coliseum, I headed up to the ever-reliable bar.

The opening band took stage shortly after my first drink was ordered, but watching the Sox mop up the Series won my time in a rather foregone conclusion. Manchester Orchestra, the second-billed act that took the stage after the opener (whose name I can’t recall) has been touring with The Annuals since August. I didn’t catch all that much of their thunderous guitar attack, so I can’t comment on the band beyond a cursory appraisal. The rhythms were tight, the energy was high, and the guitarist and bassist looked curiously like Stone Gossard and Mike McCready circa Pearl Jam’s 1992 performance on SNL. After hearing a song that sounded like a crushing, distorted rendition of “The Thin Ice” by Pink Floyd, I opted for giving continued attention to the Boys from Beantown before the main act took the stage.

Finally, The Annuals took their place below the lights. Skin deep, the band is a hodgepodge of glove-fit indie elements. Singer/keyboardist Adam Baker fits the lit-rock bill down to the wire with the 3-week facial hair and suede vest. Pianist/keyboardist Anna Spence, who strikes first impressions as a talented version of Donna from That 70s Show towered over the other male members of the band, while a likely-teenaged Zack Oden flitted between strumming and acting as the band’s second drummer. A young band with a critically-acclaimed debut album, The Annuals are ripe for skyrocketing out of college airwaves and into a wider audience.

Musically, the band is hard to nail down, but what is undeniable is the North Carolina sextet’s energy. Baker frequently flew into wild-eyed frenzies of yowling vocals, looking like a stomped-on cat in plaid. His neck tendon vocal attack on “Carry Arround” flew in and out of Spence’s swoosh of Flaming Lips-esque phaser effects with reckless abandon. In the course of the bubbling jabber of a great song from Be He Me, the band rocked out under Baker’s unlikely rallying call of “I got lots of pills in my pocket.”

From the rollicking circus swells of “Complete or Completing” to the unhinged mix of campfire sing-along and Queen contained in “Dry Clothes,” The Annuals put on a furious parade of sights and sounds. Much of the set had more of a feel of a relay race than a traditional performance, with multiple band members trading instruments either between or during songs. Deftly maneuvering on the stage packed to the floorboards with gear, Baker hammered on a snare in between keyboard lines and two drum sets used to their full and mighty potential.

Flutters of Atari-sounding midi formed the segues between the band’s songs, originating from some curious device on the side of Baker’s keyboard. It could have been an iPod for all I know, but the mysterious object made for some great opening builds in the band’s songs. Preferring to let the songs do the talking, the band had minimal interaction with the crowd, with a few wry interjections here and there. The standout was guitarist Kenny Florence murmuring, “if we can see some movement in the crowd, things gonna get a little honky tonk.” They did indeed.

The band capitalized on the fury of its propulsive songs for the one-hour set, gathering the strength of its members like the Planeteers summoning forth the sum of their powers to fuck up the looters and polluters. The Be He Me single “Brother” dropped an A-bomb of sound after the subdued opening of brooding vocals and chirping synth fanfare that whipped the modest crowd up into headbangs. Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra took the stage to add ammunition to the already wall-busting furor of four Annuals vocalists.

After ending on a crushing mesh of funk and power chords that rippled through the tiny venue, the night was over. Another satisfying night at the R&R kept my mind occupied on the irritatingly long trek back to the nearest metro station. Keep on rocking, North Carolina.

-MATT WENDUS

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