Ben Jones is the de facto driving force behind Constant Smiles, but assembles friends and colleagues as needed for both the studio work and playing life, so you never know what combo you’re gonna get. Tonight the band would feature Spike Currier on bass who also contributed to the their just-released Kenneth Anger, but additional members included Jai Berger on synth (for only the intro, oddly enough!), Nora Knight on drums and vocals and Mike Mackay on guitar, noted by Jones as his first time playing live with him. Hitting the road in support of the newest LP once again released via Sacred Bones, the record continues to showcase the strength of Jones’ songwriting and is a logical extension of Paragons, the record that originally drew me into their orbit. In the preview piece I wrote for the event, I mentioned New Zealand indie rock acts such as The Bats but live, the similarities to Mojave 3 really stood out, the post-Slowdive band that Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell formed. Jones isn’t doing anything new, just writing really catchy and strong songs, delivered in a warm and comforting voice.
He played acoustic guitar most of the time but when the Telecaster was taken from its stand as “Run To Stay” segued into “Hope For Tomorrow”, the aggression level rose accordingly. It’s not like Jones and the band suddenly started cranking out High On Fire songs but it was a noticeable shift in sound. I like both modes but the two electric guitar attack was real punctuation mark to the set, which closed with a punchy version of “In My Heart,” a dream pop song with a strong spine and a thick coat of fur, the backing vocals somewhat mirroring the outro of Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”. Constant Smiles has quietly put out a slew of strong records, and it’s about time more people paid attention.
Rounding out the bill were two wildly different bands; Crescent Ridge sounded at times like if Pavement got caught up in the post-Nevermind wave, while Retrograde88 was an agreeable mix of slightly eastern-tinged dancey psych rock that had flashes of Warpaint and a less languid Khruangbin. Definitely going to keep an eye out for these Berklee grads.