It’s was a warm summer Saturday night in Portland, Maine. I’m standing outside Space Gallery on Congress Street chatting with my old friend Jeff Roberts (of the band Pinksy) and David Lopez. On this night, Dead Man’s Clothes are having their much anticipated CD release show. I’ve come out to support my favorite local band as have many other friends and well-wishers. There isn’t a hint of moisture in the air as a slight breeze coasts down the road towards Monument Square. It’s coming up on 9 p.m. Better make our way inside. I shuffle in behind a group of crust punks. Godammit. I hate being downwind. Whatever. I’ll be fine once I grab a beer. I pay my six bucks for cover and head right to the small bar inside. The girl at the counter has a PBR with the cap already popped off and waiting. She must be able to read my mind. Or just notice the fact I’m wearing Van slip-ons, cut-off shorts and a flannel. Shit. I slip her two bucks and throw another in the tip jar. The air inside is in stark contrast to where I just was. There’s hardly any ventilation, save for the open front door. The converging smell of cultures hangs in the air. I actually like the odor though. The beads of sweat running down my back I could do without . I’ve heard a lot of buzz about the opening band. They’re called Theodore Treehouse. What an odd name. Here they come. Well, let’s just hope they put on a good show.
Jesus Christ. They are doing just that.
I feel as if I had robbed myself. The Portland area had been raving about Theodore Treehouse’s live show for months on end, and not once did I have the opportunity to check them out. That night in August, I did myself a favor. Ian Ferrel, Asher Platts, Sam Chandler and Dylan Verner showed me just one part of what Treehouse is all about: a non-stop flow of musical dynamism. It was impossible to stay still that night inside Space Gallery. Those not starting an impromptu dance party in front of the stage were moving where they stood (or sat, though I don’t recall anyone not being taken over by the music). I left that night with another band to obsess over. It would be a few months until their December release of their full-length debut, Mercury Closest to the Sun, but the wait was absolutely worth it.
Mercury captures all the energy and emotion of a live Theodore Treehouse show and crams it all into 12 fervent tracks. Their opening salvo is “Maple Syrup Moon”. Asher Platts’ pulsing bassline grabs you by the hand and pulls you out of your seat and onto the dance floor. Ferrel’s hoots kick in just as your body begins to whip around to the frantic melody . The initial auditory barrage of the album shows just what type of disparity in song structures Theodore employs on Mercury. The song ends with the band chanting “It was the path I chose long ago” repeatedly in a very sing-along style. This is one of the many examples of the live show atmosphere the band brings along on the album. From Ian’s “Ooh-Ooh-Oohs” on the British Invasion-esque “My Apartment is a Boat” to the band's opening chants on “Springtime,” it’s hard not to sing along to the album on its subsequent playthroughs.
There’s nothing typical about “Maple Syrup Moon,” and each of the 11 tracks that come after it follow the very example it sets. The pulses and rhythms run the gamut from frantic punk rock to '60s mop-top rock to spaced out surfer jams.“Big Monsters” shows the full songwriting capabilities and uses the talents of every member to its fullest to create the most in-depth song of the album. Platts adds his walking bassline to the opening guitar hook, blending perfectly with Ferrel’s lyrics of meeting the listener in their sleep. Subtle cymbal splashes and a quiet rising of horns peacefully guide you through the first half of the song. After lulling you into a state of peace, the second half of the tune jerks you awake with an escalating cacophony that bursts into a ballad of battling “big monsters every night.”
This is an album that should be listened to with the volume turned way up. I mean open the windows and point the speakers out loud. Don’t be afraid to dance around your apartment during the jammed out “Balloon Race.” Don’t hesitate to stamp your foot and do your best Mick Jagger during “Boats and Betrayal.” When you hear Ferrel sing “I feel like a beat up record machine that can only play 45s,” it’s perfectly okay to feel down in the dumps, as long as you pick yourself right up and clap along during “Two Hands.” The record all leads up to the fantastic banjo-laden closer “Two Hearts.” It’s the perfect chaser to the nonstop party that is Mercury. “Take a piece of my heart, girl. Take it to the river and wash it.”
It’s well after midnight now. The crowd is pouring out of Space and onto the sidewalk of Congress Street. Taxis zip up and down carting an equally varied crowd to and from the bars in the Old Port to places like Empire and Downtown Lounge. Each body that fills up an empty space on the sidewalk chimes in on their show experience. The air is now filled with the cigarette smoke mixed with the thoughts and estimations of genuine music lovers. I’m happy to be around this assembly. I’m glad to be able to have bared witness to Theodore Treehouse tonight. The band, along with other local acts like Dead Man’s Clothes and Brenda, embody what the independent rock scene is about. The DIY mentality, the explosive live shows and sincere care for their participating audience. And each one of those things shines through on their debut album.