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Review: Company of Thieves at Butler

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Company of Thieves
Thursday, November 3
Butler University Starbucks.

Indianapolis has always been good to Chicago-based indie rock band Company of Thieves.

“Indy’s the first place outside Chicago that our music started to take hold, and the first place we started traveling to as a band,” guitarist Marc Walloch said.

Incidentally, the group’s unique brand of dramatic, well-orchestrated, jazz- and blues-influenced rock has seemed to gain most of its popularity among the college crowd. So it is truly fitting then that COT chose Butler as the site to kick-off their cross-country headlining tour.

Over the summer the band stopped at Broad Ripple’s all-ages venue ES Jungle and earlier in the spring opened for The Whigs at Radio Radio, along with other visits to Naptown since the band formed back in 2009. Now, having wrapped up a brief tour with O.A.R., the band is headed to the West Coast with tour dates all along the way, culminating in a swing through California and the Pacific Northwest, before heading back home.

Walloch and lead singer Genevieve Schatz seemed right home in the coffee shop atmosphere Wednesday night, which is no accident, since they got their start playing open mic sets. Playing to a packed house (most of the patrons were standing), Schatz and Walloch took time to tell a few stories and explain the meanings behind certain songs as they played.

What’s always apparent about COT—perhaps most apparent—is Schatz’s commanding stage presence and the power of her brassy yet demure vocals. Dressed in a black evening dress with a black hoodie draped over it, Schatz stayed standing through almost the entire performance. She does not dance so much as interprets the songs with her body, moving her arms out and up like a Broadway performer, miming the puff of a cigarette or holding the back of her hand to her forehead in mock distress as she squeezes the syllables of her lyrics to the breaking point.

Schatz and Walloch played for just more than an hour, breaking out songs like “In Passing,” a song about spending one’s life waiting in lines, and “Pressure,” on which Schatz almost seemed to be singing through tears of frustration as she belted out the chorus (“The pressure/is rising/I mean it/It’s binding”).

Lyrically, Company of Thieves offers a lot to chew on. Their lyrics are emotional and inventive, and they seem to ride that fine line of being at once accessible and slightly inscrutable. One of their songs tells of the psychic devastation caused when Schatz’s house burned down when she was a child. Other songs like “Death of Communication” speak about the alienation and superficiality of modern life (“You sell your soul to be controlled/maybe then you’ll have a friend”).

Walloch’s rich, jazzily-articulated chords and pace-changes accompanied Schatz for most of the night, but the rest of the band joined in as well, playing a few songs toward the end of the set. The addition of the electric bass added some nice pace and backbone, while the melodica added a European feel and the band, as a whole, came out with a kind of reigned-in alternative groove. It was also nice to be reminded of what happens when Schatz’s unique style gets the backing of a full band.

Two members of Cincinnati-based Young Heirlooms opened-up for COT after allegedly getting lost somewhere on Route 65 North, not much of a wonder considering the traveling conditions; a cold, steady rain pelted Indy for most of the night. Opening with a mandolin and a guitar—but sadly putting the mandolin away after that—Young Heirlooms played an intriguing, cerebral kind of folk. Their song “New Moon” told of running through the wet grass at midnight and about the loss of innocence (“When you were young/you were afraid/but then they told you how to behave”).

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