On Saturday night in the cloistered show room at El Rio, Joe Kremer of Pterodactyl passed through the idle crowd to consult the sound guy about his microphone reverb, making a whacking hand gesture to illustrate the slap back resonation he wanted -- something he's probably had to do at every venue between Brooklyn, NY, (where the band is from) and San Francisco because it’s so essential to Pterodactyl’s sound.
Kremer has mischievous blonde facial hair and a sarcastic glint in his eye that’s hard to read. It’s not unlike Pterodactyl itself, a band that creates dissonant indie-rock by lathering sunny harmonies in reverb for a murky, psychedelic sound. But Spills Out (Jagjaguwar), the band’s newest album, has one major difference from its previous two: it teases with catchy melodies.
When Pterodactyl kicked into song, it was Kremer who had the stage antics — riffing on electric guitar, swinging around rambunctiously, and closing his eyes to enter into his own little world at the microphone. He had an unfading, boyish enthusiasm that lasted all night. Matt Marlin sat behind the drums with his sweating shirt sleeves rolled up, harmonizing on each song and looking to the others for signals (and giving them) with a blank face. He seemed to quietly run the show. Duncan Gamble on keyboards and Jesse Hodges on bass guitar were the more stationary and restrained of the group. The four had a likeable presence on stage, as though each one had a role to play: there was the ebullient charmer (Kremer), the mysterious one (Marlin), and the two nervous and loveable characters (Gamble, Hodges).
When Pterodactyl performed songs from Spills Out, the coherence and melody of songs like “Searchers” and “School Glue” was somewhat lost. Those two songs have a conspicuous presence on the record and represent a significant departure for a band that has preferred atonalism. However, when performed live, they fell indistinguishably in with the rest of the discordant, highly effected set. Kremer’s voice also was different from the record and the live performance. It sounded higher in pitch, even cartoonish. It wasn’t necessarily a drawback musically speaking — the band sounded impressive and put on a fine show — but you sometimes wondered if Kremer was involved in some inside joke that no one else got.
One highlight on Spills Out is “Allergy Shots,” which the band performed terrifically on stage. The four minutes of droning bass has a kind of mystical lugubriousness. It feels
like a trudging descent into an ever-expanding pit. “The grass isn’t greener/when there is no grass at all,” Hodges sang mechanically. In the hopeless mood of the song, his
singing was appropriate.
Even after releasing three albums, Pterodactyl is still having to introduce itself to moderate sized crowds like the one at El Rio. It’s can be a difficult introduction. Listen to the band’s albums in succession — the self-titled debut, WorldWild, and Spills Out — and you'll see that Pterodactyl has never been content doing the same thing. The debut thrashes around rampantly; WorldWild is psychedelic and airy, while Spills Out is less experimental and more dulcet. But if Pterodactyl makes more first impressions like
Saturday night’s, the band will soon need no introduction at all.
All photos by Ryan Kauffman