They are dressed like the picture we all have in our heads of grunge bands, and there’s no flash, no pomp, no attitude—just a simple statement from singer Mark Williams: “This song is called ‘Back House’; please don’t be offended.” As the older lady dances awkwardly (my Best of Santa Fe piece about awkward dancers clearly makes me a prophet) and the curious throngs begin to notice that a rock band is playing, Treemotel launches into what can best be described as Quasi melding with They Might Be Giants to perform doo-wop songs written by a Kim Gordon-fronted version of Pavement. One thing is for damn sure: losing this once-local band to Austin, Texas, is just about the worst thing to happen to the local music scene since Logical Nonsense split up a thousand years ago.
Treemotel evokes the sounds of throwback garage-y psych and punk music with Dead Milkmen-esque vocal work and certain subtle nuances that recall lesser-known bands like Asian Man Records’ Ee and/or Korea Girl. There are even slight touches to these phenomenal songs that would be familiar and aurally pleasurable to fans of indie titans Modest Mouse, artsy new-wavers B52s or the endlessly catchy work on Beck’s Modern Guilt. Treemotel is, in a word, incredible, and even the sour-faced old folks manage to crack a smile or tap their toes from their fold-out chairs.
And each nerdy song magically sounds better than the last, while the quintet bridges generational gaps left and right. It’s actually very impressive for a band to rock so hard while keeping a mellow, family-friendly bent. Everyone is spellbound, be they young children; smarmy teens who know it all; college-aged dancers who stood at the foot of the stage swaying wildly and singing along with every last word to every last song; or somebody’s grandmother.
That Treemotel manages to cram so many musical styles—from rock to punk to psych to surf and back—into their set while keeping the songs focused and engaging is nothing short of miraculous. Blistering guitar solos take center stage among tambourine-banging brilliance and intricate bass work that would make Jaco feel bad about his ability if he wasn’t already dead. And it’s actually not surprising in the least that such a fantastic band would move to the greener pastures of America’s most music-filled city.
Though these Bandstand shows that seem to be leaning toward a younger demographic are few and far between, the organizers have taken a major step in the right direction. Treemotel’s performance is proof positive that bands who operate outside the funk/Americana/Latin dance spectrum are welcome in Santa Fe—and booking them does a whole hell of a lot for broadening musical horizons and expectations.
Williams announces that one of their songs will be released on an indie label (the name of which I didn’t happen to catch) compilation soon, which begs the question: How soon until Treemotel explodes? It isn’t a matter of “if,” but rather when. In the history of bands that have made it out of Santa Fe alive and gained national or international attention (the aforementioned Logical Nonsense or Beirut, for example), none have come anywhere close to the universal appeal of Treemotel. It would be impossible to oversell this band, so do yourselves a favor and pick up any one of their three studio albums. In a world where it’s always fun to get in on something on the ground floor, believe it when we say Treemotel is going places, and you’ll want to be able to announce to anyone within earshot that you knew ’em back when they were playing small clubs in Santa Fe, New Mexico…well before they were winning awards, slaying at festivals and selling more records than The Beatles.
OK, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here, but if Treemotel isn’t on your list of bands to pay close attention to, then you’re doing it wrong.