Shiny Toy Guns all work, no play at Rave concert

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Photo by Rebecca Rebholz/ rebecca.rebholz@mu.edu

Photo by Rebecca Rebholz/ rebecca.rebholz@mu.edu

It’s nearly impossible to categorize the music of Shiny Toy Guns into one genre. Its pop-techno-rock hybrid sound is distinct and probably not replicable.

Luckily for fans, Shiny Toy Guns captured every aspect of that sound at The Rave Friday night. Listening to the 12-song, 45-minute set was like time-traveling through stages of recent music history from each decade.

The show opened with ’80s tinted pop number “Carrie,” incorporated classic rock drum solos in “Ghost Town” and later turned more mainstream with the dance hit “Somewhere To Hide,” all within 15 minutes.

As the night went on, the music styles kept changing. Some songs relied heavily on electronic keyboards and robotic sounds, especially in “Le Disko” and “Speaking Japanese.” Others, like “Ricochet!,” ditched synthesizers altogether and could have been categorized as heavy metal.

The inconsistent styles may spell disaster for some groups, but Shiny Toy Guns has made this lack of a signature sound work to its advantage. Each of its four albums takes on a distinct style, ranging from electronic to pop to hard rock. The most recent record, “III,” has alluded to more mainstream sounds with pop lyrics and dance beats, yet all have done well by industry standards.

The group’s first album, “We Are Pilots,” was nominated for the Best Electronic/Dance Album at the 2006 Grammy awards, and its cover single of Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home)” has been heard in Lincoln car commercials nationwide. The fact that Shiny Toy Guns can play these varying styles live and still maintain a successful, studio-like quality is a testament to their musical expertise.

Vocalists Chad Petree and Carah Faye Charnow completed that quality with their own unique styles. Charnow’s voice had a clear, almost ethereal tone, which complemented the electronic songs particularly well. Petree’s strong falsetto may have been downplayed under the electronic keyboards, but it certainly made an impression in the music. Together, they produced consistently solid harmonies against equally solid instrumentals.

The concert was also visually interesting. An array of colored spotlights lit up the stage during each song and moved with the beats in the music. Softer colored lights accompanied the mainstream pop songs, while hard electronic beats and synths brought red and strobe lights. Fog machines kept the band clouded by smoke.

Eventually, the clouds spread off the stage and into the audience. Combined with the electronic sounds and Charnow’s vocals, it gave the show a mysterious, otherworldly feel. There were points when the effects made the musicians hard to see, but fans didn’t seem to mind watching their silhouettes move against a cloud of colored smoke.

The only drawback of the show was a lack of much-needed enthusiasm. Each musician was so focused on playing her or his own instrument – albeit very well – that there was hardly any interaction onstage or with the audience. If fans came prepared for a Shiny Toy Guns performance, they were perhaps disappointed when they were only given a strict playing of the songs.

Some made the best of it and started dancing at the back of the venue. Others took out their cell phones in the middle of a song. Charnow must not have noticed that portion of the crowd when she said, “This is the kind of audience that artists dream of playing for.”

The musicians in Shiny Toy Guns are excellent at making music, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the band earns another Grammy nomination in the near future. If they would just show the passion they put into their music onstage, these solid musicians could turn into true performers.

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