OWEL mesmerizes at The Spark

Review: After four openers played for a sparse crowd, OWEL rocked The Spark Contemporary Art Gallery

The Spark Contemporary Art Gallery hosted brilliant Equal Vision Records indie bands OWEL and Northern Faces, along with three local openers on Thursday night in Syracuse. Although there weren’t too many willing to brave the cold, it didn’t stop each band that played from blowing the doors off the venue.

The first two acts of the night were both acoustic sets. Secrets Kept’s Kevin McGinn played a mixture of original songs and covers. His music was nostalgia-inducing, to say the least; the songs would be at home during the mid-2000s wave of popular emo music. Although it sounded a little dated, McGinn’s guitar playing was tight, and his voice proved to be spectacular. He also threw out a near-perfect cover of “Drive” by Incubus, which clearly brightened the faces of a few audience members. The following set was courtesy of The Good Fight. A blend of folk and emo was prevalent throughout the short set, with the singer showcasing his wide range and booming voice. The songs would’ve certainly been better with a full band, but the guitar playing and socially-conscious lyrics made for a solid set.

You wouldn’t have believed it from watching them, but the third band, Ritual Twin, played their first show that night. The three-piece band plays as loud as any local band I’ve seen. Their sound is somewhere between stoner metal and dreamy shoegaze; with crushingly heavy riffs and pounding rhythms offset by moments of pure reverbed bliss. The songs were quite dynamic, as the band weaved between playing slow, Black Sabbath-esque doom and giving the crowd vibes when the rhythm section started into catchier groove parts with glistening guitar floating overhead. They will be a band to look for in our local scene next year.

Northern Faces from Albany, NY was up next, and they put on a spectacular performance. Their style seems largely modeled after British indie pop, but there is certainly heavy American blues-rock influence that seeps into their songs. The set featured shimmering guitar leads, solid drumming, intricate vocal harmonies, and outstanding bass playing. Northern Faces didn’t hold anything back; they blasted the audience with a superb wall of sound, and performed as if it was for 500 people. The band was at their best on songs like “Cops Come” and “Wait, Wait, Wait” from their 2015 self-titled album. They also played new single “Messin’ With Me”, an infectious indie pop jam that is absolutely radio ready.

Closing out the night would be New Jersey’s OWEL. This five-piece group played an astonishingly beautiful set, complete with bright lights and theatrical, dynamic soundscapes. Their brand of indie rock is complete with swelling strings and keys, a driving and dynamic rhythm section, guitar playing that was equal parts ethereal and crushing, with vocalist Jay Sakong’s voice soaring along wonderfully. Every song seemed delicately crafted to bring the audience on a roller-coaster ride. When a lush part would put us at ease, the band would shift gears and hit everyone with voluminous and massive guitar riffs. Their sound was at its most stunning playing this year’s “All I’ll Ever Know”, a catchy and graceful pop song with bright guitars and bass that drives the song throughout. Closer “Snowglobe” was a perfect closer; it builds and builds beautifully, moving from fragile chamber music to massive and dynamic parts that give the listener a sense of urgency. It was a phenomenal set, and they are the kind of band that can only get better.

Unfortunately, these amazing groups and artists barely played for an audience. I don’t know if it was the weather or the expensive $14 entry, but it was truly a shame that the venue was so sparsely populated. Regardless, it didn’t hold the touring bands back from playing as they normally would for a large crowd. Also, Tim Hall did an outstanding job with the sound. A room of that size doesn’t often sound nearly as full as it did on Thursday. For those things, we as an audience were thankful, and hopefully OWEL and Northern Faces will someday come back, and play for a larger crowd next time. 

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