While We Are Trees’ recent Girlfriend EP shows that a lo-fi band can produce clear, delicate songs while not completely abandoning the genre, their live show is a mess. Their music has a catchy eagerness backed up with a more traditional lo-fi sonic crashing guitar (especially on ‘Teenage Heartbreak’ and ‘Girlfriend’), but this delicate balance is lost in the packed and sweaty backroom of Pianos in the East Village.
Although the band consists of James Nee on vocals/guitar and Josiah Schlater on drums, it’s Nee’s influence that really stands out. While his choral voice evokes inevitable comparisons with Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen, the former tend to bring the vocals to the forefront while Nee & Co. are content to crash percussion into shredding guitars to drench Nee’s painful, rejection-fueled lyrics with a deep reverb.
But We Are Trees’ problem is not making their music, it’s in actually performing it. After 20 minutes of false starts and tweaks to their instruments, they eventually launch into their set. However, stopping continually throughout to alter sounds, combined with Nee’s microphone wavering in and out of functioning (and actually being replaced at one point), means the crowd are soon apathetic and start to disperse or talk loudly – after five songs Nee announces, “this might be our last one” to no reaction. A haphazard setup and unintentional distortions can compliment lo-fi but this is just a shambles. After realizing he is the only member who actually knows the last song, the others slope off (except for the guitarist who runs back on mid-song for his cigarettes) leaving Nee to sing a new tune. The lyric “why does this happen to me?” seems oddly appropriate. We Are Trees are a good band and Nee has a lot of talent but they’re not one to see live… yet.