Richmond pop-rockers Gills and Wings are all about surprises. While their band name suggests an airy, twee-pop sound, it’s a misnomer: their music is dynamically rich and densely orchestrated, a throwback to a time when Queen ruled arena rock. Not content to simply rehash the songs of Freddie Mercury and Brian May, however, Gills and Wings add to their sound with the progressive electronic streak of Muse and the symphonic sensibility of Jon Brion. Playing on Saturday at DC9, they had no trouble painting the small venue with a major key palette of sounds.
The quintet augments standard rock instrumentation with Korgs and a drum machine, allowing the band to play with melody outside the range of your run-of-the-mill indie band. It also allows them to faithfully recreate the arrangements of their self-titled EP. Guitarist Alex McCallum manipulates his ax into making sounds that are more string quartet than Fender Jaguar (thanks to the trusty eBow, an electronic take on what Jimmy Page tried with the real thing). Santiago de la Fuente’s harmonies complement the impressive vocal range of lead singer Danny Reyes, whose powerful singing voice is unrivaled in modern rock music
The setlist covered their EP, along with a few new songs. Contrasts keep the listeners guessing, as sing-song lyrics over arpeggiated chords turn into full-throated cries, backed by chugging riffage and the pounding drumming of Andrew Hackett. As their songs take dramatic turns, the dynamic ebb and flow lends an operatic feel to the whole performance. Closing the set was standout track “Rebirth of a Nation,” a satirical look at the American Dream, with a chorus that calls for fists-in-the-air rocking out.
Modern pop-rock, or anything that could crossover these days, is usually too paint-by-numbers to really excite anyone, but Gills and Wings have the talent to surprise audiences, and shouldn’t be missed. Catch them tonight at Jammin Java in Vienna. You won’t be disappointed.