Rosetta’s Kitchen, though a delightful place to grab a bite, is not what most would consider a music venue. Door-to-door tables crowd the limited floorspace, and narrow hallways amplify the sounds emanating from the bustling kitchen. But, on a cool Sunday night, Rosetta’s was transformed as Hello Hugo tucked into the far corner of the dining room and noodled its way through an hour-long set of melodic instrumentals as part of a fundraiser for flood victims in Pakistan.
Perched atop their amplifiers with gazes fixed at the hardwood floor, the band members began the set subdued and quiet; Drummer Reid Weigner gently pounded out the ever-changing rhythm with padded mallets as the meandering guitars of Rosser Douglas and Justin Holt led the way, effortlessly shifting between time signatures and wistful melodies. There was a noticeable absence of microphones amidst the clutter of equipment, but the band’s unpredictable wanderings quickly dismissed any yearning for a vocal narrative, keeping the crowd guessing as to where the next turn might lead.
It was hard to tell if the hushed tunes were deliberately restrained because of the setting or if the mood was by design, but that mystery was soon resolved when Hello Hugo charged into a distorted bridge with previously unseen vigor. As cymbals splashed and faint rumblings of Nick Prather's bass reverberated through the floors, what was already an impressive showing from these relative newcomers took on new life, melding indie-rock tones with jazzy rhythms and an unmistakable agitation and anxiousness reminiscent of Asheville’s most notable experimental rockers, Ahleuchatistas.
With that explosive shift in energy, a line was crossed, and there was no going back. The latter half of the set saw the band delving into increasingly heavier material, patiently building to one climax after another, careful to avoid steering the songs down predictable paths and, instead, taking every opportunity to surprise and challenge expectations.
Some of the audience came for the music, others just to eat, but by this point one thing was clear: Everyone was paying attention. Open seating a thing of the past, the space filled with latecomers who bobbed and swayed to the infectious jams, occasionally breaking for a quick bite of traditional Pakistani cuisine before waves of rhythm swept them back into a sea of unrelenting dissonant bliss. And then, after an especially aggressive (yet warmly harmonic) offering, Hello Hugo was done, and so was the crowd. Within minutes, Rosetta’s was a ghost town and all signs of the invigorating performance were gone. Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Hello Hugo is just how encapsulating their extended compositions (which never go anywhere in particular and often clock in at nearly 10 minutes) can be. Or maybe it’s the remarkable way the band relays such intensely technical material in a fluid, intuitive manner.
But whatever the reason, Hello Hugo is a band not just to see, but to pay attention to. If you thought instrumental bands were for elevators, think again.