Tancred and The Box Tiger @ T.T. the Bear’s 12.22.13

by Jacqueline Swisshelm (Journalism), published January 15th 2014

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Wednesday, December 22 was a fairly warm night compared to the last time Jess Abbott, vocalist and guitarist of Now, Now, played in Boston. But this night was unlike the last. Although her band has quickly climbed the Minneapolis-based indie rock ladder, Abbott took the stage alone, but for her guitar. She softly introduced her solo project, called Tancred, to the thirty or so listeners near the stage and began to strum out quick, electric chords followed by punk-y vocals. Live, Abbott’s voice sounded a bit premature and her lyrics featured Now, Now-esque imagery with a bitter edge.

Performing after the Somerville-based Velah, a post-rock band fronted by trained female vocals, Abbott’s raw sound was revitalizing. Her concise tunes, each song not much longer than three minutes, were catchy enough that fans could tap their feet, but Abbott’s hostile lyrics seemed more fitted for a coffee shop than a noisy bar. Abbott had moments of strong vocals on slower songs like “Hard to Leave,” but elongated notes evoked the same harmonies of Now, Now, and her solo stint just sounded empty in comparison, especially without the backing drums featured on the her latest self-titled record.

But, maybe that’s the point. Many of Abbott’s lyrics allude to loss and reminiscing. After a dark introduction about an alcoholic parent, “Twelve” certainly stuck with anyone listening. Her most memorable tune, though, was “Indiana,” an up-beat pop-punk song with a sound similar to Allison Weiss. Abbott’s cover of Alanis Morrisette’s “Wake Up” actually rivaled the original.

By the time 11 p.m. rolled around, the crowd seemed sufficiently relaxed and Toronto-born band The Box Tiger took the stage. Lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Sonia Sturino brought a mature, yet youthful energy back to the show with punk-rock stiletto notes and an ambitious stage presence. Sturino’s vocal command is not easily matched. Her range and delivery recall the likes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ singer Karen O or Florence Welch, and she has no problem belting out hard, honest lyrics. Bandmates Jordan Stowell and Lauren Chan were without bassist Ben Tran, but fill-in Cam Jones joined the foursome to put on a liberated indie-rock show, with clear inspiration from the sounds of Arcade Fire.

Together, they mostly played songs from their latest album Set Fire, including single “Set Fire To Your Friends.” Ringing electric chords and distinct, sharp vocals really set The Box Tiger apart from most other bands that play at T.T.’s. In short, the band was heated and passionate, but didn’t overcompensate, especially on songs like “Embers” and “Taller Than Trees.” Every element of The Box Tiger’s performance—from Chan’s paced drumming to Stowell’s backing rhythm guitar and Sturino’s hiccupping vocals—came together as a sleek creation from a clearly motivated band.

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