Odds are that anyone who inadvertently wandered into the Rock ‘n Roll Hotel last Thursday night wandered back out sporting a side ponytail and a desire to throw a John Cusack movie in the VCR, as Chicago/Minneapolis trio On An On swept into town and delivered a show laden with blue sparkly lights, smoke machines, a extra drummer with an enormous headset, and a bulky hour’s worth of chest-rattling bass lines and synthesizers. Touring in support of their debut album Give In, the three remaining members of the now-defunct Scattered Trees put on a solid enough show, and although the material at this point in their super short career is perhaps a little thin, the band left a lot of promise hanging in the thick smoky air.
The studio versions of tracks from Give In mix shoe gaze and electronica with a healthy dose of 80’s sensibilities, while also managing to stumble at times into dub-step territory. Live, those same songs were as straight-up 1984 as a Delorean full of pastel crew necks. From lead singer Nate Eiesland’s Duckie hairdo and blinding white tennis shoes to keyboardist/vocalist Alissa Ricci’s entire body from head to toe, On An On spent the evening evoking bands and a decade that are obviously huge influences on the road this band has opted to travel.
Alissa Ricci of On An On @ The Rock N Roll HotelThe show took off with a rolling push of drums and keyboard, and by the time they reached “All the Horses,” the tour drummer had found an almost regal groove and the night got moving in earnest. Approaching Polica in its devotion to synth and electronic ambient layers, On An On shone on “Cops” and “Bad Mythology,” and mentioned that the fog and excessive blue lighting made everyone look sexy and underwater. Flirting with the mostly-female audience never hurt anyone, and when they then announced a Hot Chip cover, the temperature of the mostly-full club went up several degrees.
While On An On’s songs are strongly reminiscent of Beach House or Blonde Redhead, they unfortunately lack the heft and layering of bands who’ve been around for a while – although the three main members of the band have been performing together for over 10 years in one permutation or another, the structure and sound of this album is an entirely new direction for them all. Beach House in particular is all over this record, and Ricci resemblance to a younger Victoria Legrand has to be intentional, but there’s still something missing that would otherwise kick the music over the edge from “very good” to “truly great.”
The closest they came to accomplishing something great-better-than-solid was at the end of the set, saving the lead single “Ghost” as a closer. On An On managed to turn the club into an enormous vibration chamber with reverberating drums and drum machine layers, and added sound effects that resembled a mother ship landing. “Ghost” is aptly named, as its lilting chorus and gorgeous full arrangements haunt a listener, and it floats in the back of your mind throughout the course of the day without you being able to pinpoint just how you know it. After a quick break and a tremendous amount of screaming from the ladies in the audience, the band returned for “Every Song” -- while “Ghost” and “Hunter” may have been the first tracks in wide rotation off Give In, “Every Song” is so 1980s-punchy-love-story that it’s the obvious track for encores for the duration of the tour. It’s also destined to ensure that every member of the band will be invited out for whatever all night restaurant doubles for Ben’s Chili Bowl across the country by the band’s adoring fledgling fan base.
While On An On’s sound as a whole needs a bit more time to mature, if you’ve worn a hole in your copy of Bloom you could do a lot worse than spending a little time with Give In. There’s a line in the song “American Dream,” just like your mamma told you, you’re going to be a star, and there’s a good possibility that with a few more years under their very wide belts and skinny ties this band could be there.