Crowded into the stage area of BoBo Gallery, five-piece indie-pop group Do It To Julia (newcomers to Asheville as of last September) seem to have already outgrown the venue. But more than the sold-out room, the band's head count and the sprawling keyboard, it's the presence of DITJ's members that suggests amplitude. From the opening notes of a song, frontman Ryan O'Keefe introduces as "a new tune about the housing market," the small crowd is ready to dance. And, within a few numbers, pretty blond violinist Halli Anderson is flinging off her cardigan and dancing with abandon among the audience.
For clarity, Anderson — the sole female in the band — is not the "Julia" to whom "it" is being done. The band, which formed in Boone in 2006, took its name from a quote in George Orwell's novel 1984 ("Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don't care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!").
Despite that ominous appellation, nothing about DITJ is dark. Instead, the group crafts robust, bright music that balances between buoyant pop and some sort of new, happy Americana. O'Keefe's vocals are simultaneously warm and commanding, with energy comparable to Josh Ritter. Matt Rossino is a sturdy backbone on the bass; Stephen Bush adds guitar licks to compliment Anderson's fierce violin; Alex McWalters plays crisp and driving percussion; the whole band effortlessly nails the many breaks and tempo changes that mark each song.
"Julia," a tribute to the group's moniker, opens with a wash of cymbals leading into a sparkling duet between O'Keefe and Anderson ("The sky is falling on me"/"Wrap your arms around me"). The layered vocals lead to layered instrumentation — the cornerstone of DITJ's sound. That sonic building creates a modern base for the band's lovely, thoughtful lyrics that are every bit as good when listened to closely as they are when digest as another layer of the soundscape.
At times, the songs — with their multiple movements and orchestral breaks — border on epic. For that reason, DITJ deserves fresh audience or a clear headliner slot. At the BoBo Gallery show, they followed two other stellar and complex bands. Nice to see so many strong acts in one place; hard to fully focus on the final act's immense talent.
Openers included Black Mountain-based Walk-In Residents, the current project of Mallory Graham, Justin Ellison and Scott Tyler. All three are former members of the Electric Ghost Collective. They sing gorgeous three-part harmonies, making short work of The Traveling Willbury's "Handle Me With Care" as well as originals.
Doc Aquatic, the second band of the evening, also comes from Boone. Fronted by guitarist/vocalist J.C. Hayes, the psychedlic/indie outfit called to mind Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Doors and turned out a loose but passionate set.
So, too much music in one small listening room? Never. But each of these bands warrants individual attention. Luckily, all are planning regular performances. Info at www.doittojulia.com, www.myspace.com/docaquatic and www.facebook.com/pages/Walk-In-Residents/183917917357?v=info.