Now You See Them, a quirk-pop trio often seen on Asheville’s street corners, manages to always look as though they’re in the middle of a video. A cool video from the short-lived-yet-golden-age of MTV: One in which they stand on a ratty piece of Oriental carpet and play their hearts out in real time while scenes from the street and farmer’s market and smoky hipster club flash by in fast-motion.
In reality, the band is pretty low-tech. They play acoustic instruments (Shane Conerty on vocals, guitar and ukulele; Jason Mencer on a makeshift drum kit consisting of a djembe and tambourine played with brushes; Dulci on vocals, guitar and melodica) that can be amped but produce more or less the same sounds in the great outdoors as within the confines of a club. And Now You See Them sounds pretty much the same in either location, which is to say, wherever they go, they sound like themselves.
They also sound a little bit like the Moldy Peaches (albeit an upbeat, Wellbutrin-bolstered version). And the comparisons keep coming: Intended or not, Now You See Them is aligned with current indie-darlings Ingrid Michaelson and Colbie Caillat (which means they’re tapped into trends) as well as ‘80s post-New Wave alternative groups (they bust out a savvy cover of the Violent Femmes “American Music”). They’re cute and offbeat; their lyrics (both covers and originals) dexterously balance between self-depreciation and humor.
At a recent Fred’s Speakeasy show, Conerty announced to the crowd, “We’ve got a lot of stuff to play so we’ll just get right to it.” Getting right to it involves a lot of flinging of Conerty’s red mane, a lot of jumping, and a lot of trading vocal duties. The Now You See Them style—and yes, they’ve developed a signature style—is characterized by contagious zeal as much as by Conerty’s red guitar, Dulci’s miniskirts and Mencer’s apt Roger Miller tribute (“King of the Road”). The latter, by the way, transformed the PBR-sipping, chain-smoking Fred’s crowd from noncommittal observers to candid enthusiasts.
Outside, it’s easier to hear how Conerty and Dulci harmonize (he tends to take the high parts); indoors Conerty leaps into falsetto to catapult his voice over the hum of the crowd. Inside, it’s clear that Now You See Them is a seasoned act dedicated to careful arrangements and complex time signatures, key and even instrument changes (their hyper-paced, well-constructed original song, “Leona,” has Conerty trading guitar for uke mid-stream). But that talent is tempered with wit (cheeky original, “It Could Be Worse,” offers up the sage advice that “There’s somebody who’s got it worse than you ‘cause you could be dead. Or stupid.”).
Indoors or out, they look like they’re just jamming in their collective basement (in an arty ‘80s music video sort of way, of course), but Now You See Them is as serious about their musicianship as they are about having a good time.
Catch Now You See Them at the Garage at Biltmore on Thursday, Oct. 9 (10 p.m., $5, 545-4841) and at Fred’s Speakeasy on Friday, Oct. 17 (10:30 p.m., $3, 281-0920). For more info, go to www.nystonline.com.