I hadn't seen Southeast Engine since 2005 until they played at MOTR back in March or April 2011. The lineup changed yet again, but was probably better overall than what I remember from 2005. After the show I bought the band's new record, Canary, which has several nice moments but is built around a problematic idea.
The reason why the new record is disappointing is because back in 2003-04 the band appeared to be unstoppable. They were certainly much better than bands like The Black Keys who are now famous but had people walk out on them when they played The Union back in 2003. Coming to Terms with Gravity was a decent record and the title track was a terrific song -- one that I'd place along the dozen or so great Arcade Fire songs that appeared on that band's first albums. Listening to it again, I'm still in disbelief that this song was written by an unassuming OU undergrad and recorded in somebody's Athens, OH apartment:
This band needs to stop putzing around and get on a major label. That step would get a big-time producer in the studio with these guys, and would get them over the hump so far as having them better recognize their strengths and gut some of the so-so concepts and lyrics.
Black Gold, from 2007 or so...fast forward to 3:20:
This song is an example of what I'm talking about -- if you're compelled to write an attack on capitalists, and you want to argue that what you do (play music) is better than what they do, you can't screw anything up. There are some okay moments in this song's first half, but the bad outweighs the good. The bridge and especially the final 45 seconds are totally brilliant, but not enough for me to ignore what doesn't work earlier. It's so frustrating when a band is so close to really nailing it!
Anyway, Southeast Engine is a pretty good live band and you won't notice the sometimes clumsy lyrics, and of course MOTR is free. Also, seeing an Athens band is a firm rebuke to the various rankings-obsessed (I'm looking at you, DAAP and CCM) Ohio University haters in this city.