Sensory Overload: Cliffs

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From the November 1, 2012 edition

Considering how rarely Times New Viking plays these days, somebody needed to step up to keep first-rate slapdash scuzz-pop on Columbus stages. Cliffs is getting it done.

The pair of former Anderson University undergrads is now busting lungs and scraping eardrums in Columbus. They actually live just up the street from the bar where I encountered their band last Thursday. 4th Street Bar & Grill seems to have added “rock bar” to a repertoire that also includes “beer connoisseur hangout,” “meat market bar,” “sports bar,” “luxuriant North Campus patio,” “karaoke bar,” “soccer fan hideout,””boutique carryout” and “bro-friendly dubstep palace.” It’s a remarkable institution, and so is Cliffs.

They began by humorously riffing on the dubstep remix of “Hard in the Paint” that was blasting through the P.A. while they tried to start their set. "As soon as Electric Forest is over, we'll start,” said drummer ADZ, clad in a Denver Broncos T-shirt.

And they were off, belting out the phrase “Beautiful girls!” in a harmony that involved falsetto. Their voices were astonishingly unstrained and in-key for a kind of music in which close enough usually gets by. They even traded verses on the triumphant closing number, “A Day in the Life” style.

Guitarist ADA, repping The Sonics with his T (the recently reunited Seattle garage band, not the defunct Seattle basketball franchise), unleashed unbound guitar theatrics that cemented the TNV comparison for me. He tended toward scrappy but thunderous detonations, often deploying the whammy bar, a sorely underused accessory.

The fact that Cliffs is a shout-along guitars/drums duo positions these guys as contemporaries of Japandroids. And while they share those Canadians’ affinity for anthems, Cliffs shambles across all sorts of sounds rather than hone in on one. Consider “E=mc2,” which approached White Stripes garage blues with the wobbly grace of Pavement’s Wowee Zowee, or the impressive manner in which power pop ditty “From Bonnie to Clyde” descended into harmonized “oohs.”

That last song, though. It’s worth mentioning again. Started out dreamy, ended up humongous, with an awesome grasp of dynamics and the kind of melodies that latch on to a living, breathing human being. It was an exclamation point on a show that said, “Pay attention!”