For all the kids watching at home, Black Santa is real

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by Jordan Green

The release party for the seventh issue of Amplifier ’zine on March 14 provided the first opportunity for many to glimpse the Crown, a Goldilocks-proportioned live-music space on the third floor of the Carolina Theatre in downtown Greensboro.

The high ceilings and open floor space, coupled with exposed brick and ductwork, gives the venue a feel that is both intimate and grand.

Amplifier’s role as convener gave the show a communal, interdisciplinary feel. Common ground for writers and poets to rub shoulders with artists and musicians is one of the hallmarks of the lively publication. The fact that it was a free show and the bar was serving $2 PBR pours until the keg ran out could only improve the goodwill. And the honor system at Amplifier’s merch table underscored an ethos of trust.

The good feeling permeating the scene nourished an ecumenical spirit in the audience, with listeners giving consistent appreciation to the bands rather than rotating in and out depending on their favorites.

The mostly rock lineup was spiced with an opening electronic dance music showcase hosted by TYP Tapes (profiled, incidentally, in the recent issue of Amplifier). A mixtape producer promoting a “do it together” approach, TYP Tapes is a collaboration between Steven Biddy and Sam Martin. Their contribution to the Amplifier release party paired Biddy’s provocative tracks under the moniker Daughters Goggles with Martin’s sensuous yet aggro performance art as the Three-Brained Robot. To make things more interesting and open-ended, they interspersed sonically throbbing contributions from EDM producer Faster Detail in a kind of round-robin format.

If you didn’t dig the TYP Tapes set, you might have been more into the ambient sound produced by the instrumental guitar-drums duo of Sacred Oaks. With only one show under its belt before the performance on March 14, the band has yet to develop a distinct musical personality or narrative, but the chemistry and technical proficiency shared by drummer Arthur Boudman and Matt Lovett is impressive. Lovett builds from mathematically precise noting to effects-layered tidal waves of sound.

Fronted by singer Toni Tronu, Elemeno’s set displayed emotionally textured vocals and a dynamic sound that moved seamlessly from atmospheric to propulsive. With recent personnel changes and an overhaul of repertoire recently behind them, Elemeno’s performance sounded somewhat forced and will probably evolve into a more organic compound as they integrate their elements.

The band relocated from the Florida panhandle to Greensboro about three years ago. During a visit to the Gate City they checked out an open mic and found the scene hospitable. They also liked the city’s location at the nexus of interstates 85 and 40, a strategic location for staging East Coast tours.

Those who stuck around for Black Santa’s set around midnight were richly rewarded with a bracing and cathartic performance that mixed material from their 2012 EP Danny, We Love You and their forthcoming output on Bit Heart Records, to be released on April 19.

Also featuring Arthur Boudman on drums, Black Santa pivots on the collaboration between Tristan Munchel and Spencer Auten, who alternate on vocals and switch between guitar and bass, according to who is singing at any given moment. Munchel’s gawky and incisive vocal style is complemented by Auten’s more conventional gritty-emo delivery, with both taking turns of poeticism. Their sound provides a vehicle for surprising melodic detours, allowing them to simultaneously come across as spritely and introspective. As an example of the pleasures contained in their musical choices, a given song might match conventionally folky vocals with instrumentation best described as ear bleeding and melodic.

The scene is fun and supportive. And Black Santa is an example of an experiment coming to fruition and generating real excitement.