"He should be an evangelist," says my friend in the middle of the Bats of Belfry's April 24 set at Neumo's.
He was referring to Jan Norberg, who, in the last few months, has become one of the most immediately commanding frontmen in town. Squint your eyes at his skinny ass and he appears as a long, thin ray of white light. Built like a broomstick, with glue-colored flesh and hair like dry wheat, he possesses no real Iggy-like stage power, yet he's impossible to look away from. Credit this in part to the band members flanking him on all sides; their bright, shining noise and complete lack of showboating naturally pushes Norberg to the forefront.
Somehow, with only a handful of shows under their belts, the Bats of Belfry went from being a local band with heaps of potential to being full-fledged rock pros ready to bust out onto the rest of our great land. With thickly layered harmonies and crunching '70s rock chords, the Bats come on hard and huge, almost otherwordly, especially when multiple members step to the mike, evoking the spacey harmonies of Bowie's peak years. The bass is bulbous and funky, and guitarist Jorum Young (who contrasts Norberg with his shaggy woodsman look) delivers grooving, razor-sharp classic-rock fills.
If anyone had become familiar with their Thin White Duke–Can–Neil Young formula, they would've been surprised on this Monday night to hear the influences boiled down into a seamless blend. Boasting a set of entirely new material, they exploded into their first number, a shimmering '70s rock monster that could have fit well onto the Kemado roster. While Monday night gigs are notorious for being sullen affairs, the band had no problem commanding the stage and generating passionate, between-songs applause. They barreled through their set with such confidence and mastery of the material that it was hard to believe it was the same band that had opened for the Fiery Furnaces last fall and blew out a speaker at the War Room before that. Afterward, Swedish rockers Dungen took the stage. Anyone in the audience expecting the Hendrixian psychedelic blaze of their breakthrough, Ta Det Lugnt, was most likely disappointed that the live arrangements were about as thin as a piece of rice paper. But it's hard to upstage the kind of youthful surge bands like Bats of Belfry have at this point of their career. Given that the Bats are only just gaining momentum, their energy is nearly unparalleled in Seattle right now. On my way out the door midway through Dungen's set, I caught Norberg, who confided in me that his band had been working overtime to achieve their sound.
Who would've thought hard work actually pays off.