Sensory Overload: Afortiori

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Friday's set was my second experience with Afortiori after seeing them open for Phoenix at Newport Music Hall three months back. I remember being impressed with how on-point and professional they were but feeling unmoved by the music.

For a group with six members, they sounded a bit thin, and I wondered if the Newport had neutered their sound a bit.

That show left me wanting to see them up close, so I trudged through the latest snowpocalypse, showed up early and planted myself in front of the stage. What I witnessed cast Afortiori in a more favorable light, though some of the same reservations rang true.

They still weren't as expansive as you'd hope from a sextet. The songs hit harder in the bar's more claustrophobic setting, and I applaud the band for skewing towards minimalism rather than overcrowding their mix. A lot of groups could learn from their restraint.

Still, heart-rending alt-rock like this could benefit from epic scope, and with Nile Carpenter clutching that cello and Josh Keating hunched over keyboards, it seems like they have the capacity to flesh things out.

There were moments when Erb's turmoil transferred into high drama, as on the night's highlight, "Keep Your Distance." Just as often, though, Afortiori fell flat, easing through their songs rather than hammering them home.

I spent a long time Friday trying to figure out which singer Erb conjures with his nasally, growling tenor. After the Newport show I pegged him as a Kurt Cobain/Thom Yorke hybrid, but this time there were traces of Deftones' Chino Moreno and Sunny Day Real Estate's Jeremy Enigk before it hit me: that dude from Our Lady Peace. (A prize goes to whoever knows that guy's name without Google.)

All those names hint at the distinct '90s feel emanating from Afortiori. Understated verses give way to big half-time choruses; guitars chime, chug and dominate the mix. Personal crises haunt the lyrics: "She said Daniel, keep your distance now!" Listening to the band's EP, you almost expect a hologram Winona Ryder to project from the speakers.

But none of those are big problems if you like '90s alt-rock, which I do. Furthermore, my trouble putting my finger on Afortiori says something positive about the songwriting niche Erb's carved out.

He's got a way with melody and a knack for restraint, and I think his crew could make a career out of this stuff if they honed their dynamics a bit, expanded their palette and took some more risks. They're a bit vanilla for now, but something behind these songs is captivating enough to keep me listening for that "Aha!" moment.