Ratboys, Dowsing // Brudenell Games Room, Leeds // 03.10.16
Ratboys are bringing a certain lightness to the games room of the Brudenell. Singer-songwriter and guitarist Julia Steiner is standing alone on stage, waltzing through a few of the quieter tracks from the band’s 2015 debut AOID – a record that carries a kind of calm through its 10 alt-country tracks, and the same one that’s choosing to manifest itself in the room at this moment. Heads nod softly to ‘Pivotal Dates’ and ‘Folk Song for Jazz’, a couple of those slower cuts from AOID, before the rest of the Chicago four-piece (currently having cracks filled in by members of Dowsing) join Steiner on stage. The band fleshes out Steiner’s soft vocal takes with a carousel of rock-cum-folk sound, giving her words further life. An English major, Steiner’s background expresses itself clearly; “back then, my teenage energy would take a thousand shapes; I would wrestle with my wanting then laugh it off and fill another page” from ‘Not Again’ (off this year’s Dowsing/Ratboys split) is a beautiful line in itself, but with the tour-de-force of the band standing behind it, it takes hundreds of those thousand shapes at once.
Eventually, Ratboys move their unique stylings off the games room’s raised floor, and are replaced by aforementioned split-mates Dowsing. Once again, the stage is taken by the band’s fronting member first – lyricist Erik Czaja powers into several of Dowsing’s cuts with just his voice and guitar, taking a couple requests from the audience as he moves along. It’s undeniably raw – as a band, Dowsing are denoted by punching guitar chords alongside Czaja’s half-yelled voice and explosive percussion, so seeing their songs in this form is jarring in a fascinating way. The energy is still all there – just barely containing itself.
When Dowsing fully assembles on stage, the rest of the set flies by in a blur – songs like ‘I’m Sorry, You’re Great’ lull things down before bursting back outwards, delivering the catharsis promised in ‘Feeling Better’. Where Ratboys carried lightness, Dowsing tear it down in a wall of duelling guitars and semi-gang choruses. We’re closed out to early catalogue love/hate song ‘Joking/Laughing’, playing against a set dominated by the band’s most recent release Okay – left shaken and enamoured, I leave to Leeds’ streets, quickly managing to lose the copy of the aforementioned split EP I picked up in a bar. I’ll find it again 5 days later, happily – and hopefully I’ll hang on to it this time. The bands deserve it.