Roz and the Rice Cakes were halfway through their set at Cafe Nine on Monday night when keyboardist and vocalist Roz Raskin took a moment to gaze out at the healthy crowd that had assembled on the club’s floor.
“Monday night,” she said. “New Haven, doing it right.”
It was another installment of Manic Mondays, a weekly show that matches local and touring bands to put together evenings that, in this reporter’s experience so far, are marked by a slightly earlier start time than usual, slightly shorter sets, and a lot of talent.
The New Haven-based Quiet Giant — Danielle Capalbo on vocals and guitar, Mark Almodovar on bass, and Jared Thompson on drums — kicked off the evening. Capalbo’s songs marry tight song structure with roaring energy, driven by Capalbo’s voice, which could swell from raspy croon to howl in a second.
In between songs, Capalbo knew how to banter, thanking the crowd for coming and being quick with a self-deprecating joke. When something fell over while she was playing, she didn’t miss a beat. But after the song, she informed the audience, “I thought that was my beer. I’ll tell you what — I drop my beer every time I play here.”
But Quiet Giant’s real strength was musical. Almodovar and Thompson made grooves that created an arena’s worth of space, and Capalbo, true to the band’s name, knew how to use it. Sometimes she gave herself just the skeleton of an accompaniment with her guitar, letting her voice have room to fly. Other times she laid down a cantankerous riff. And sometimes she turned her guitar into a monster, storming across the landscape and making people cheer in response.
Roz and the Rice Cakes came down from Providence, R.I. to be next on the bill. Like Quiet Giant, Roz Raskin on keyboards and vocals and Casey Belisle and Justin Foster on bass, drums, and vocals used the trio to create a huge sound, but where Quiet Giant went from whisper to squall, Roz and the Rice Cakes went spacey. As the bass and drums grounded the music, Raskin created echoes like radar signals, cascades of notes, and curtains of chords for the dual vocals to harmonize front and center on. Their voices crossed the distance between outer space and the audience, just as Raskin disarmed with her banter.
Introducing the song “Houdan the Mystic,” Raskin revealed that “it’s actually named after our friend’s band, we love them so much.” It was a band the Rice Cakes played with in Richmond, Va. while on tour. The Rice Cakes brought their friends back north.
Weakened Friends, from Portland, Maine, finished off the evening with a wailing set of distortion-drenched guitar, thunderous bass, and pounding drums. The trio of Sonia Sturino on vocals and guitar, Annie Hoffman on bass, and Cam Jones on drums were relentless on song after song, creating a sound punctured only by Sturino’s sharp, startled vocals. The crowd stayed for the very end, clapping and cheering, and if it all felt really cathartic, well, that was the whole point, as Sturino revealed in a moving statement right before the band’s last song. She talked with passion and honesty about the problems people can face, from difficulties in their personal lives to feeling powerless in the face of national politics, and how it can sometimes be hard, for whatever reason, to put one foot in front of the other.
“We’ve been there,” she said, and meant it. “We’re Weakened Friends. We’re here for you no matter what you’re going through, and we hope you had a good time.”