Sensory Overload: Saintseneca makes a connection at Newport Music Hall

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

Early in Saintseneca's Friday performance at Newport Music Hall, the five-piece launched into "Happy Alone," a standout track off its 2014 albumDark Arc. Yet, increasingly, the formerly loose-knit collective has learned to operate as a full-on band, fleshing out singer/songwriter Zac Little's once-folksy output with intricate three-part harmonies, occasional noise outbursts and propulsive drums courtesy of Matt O'Conke - a key addition whom Little discussed in aStereogum interview earlier this year.

"Even when we were doingDark Arc, I was actually scared that we were adding actual drums to those songs," he said. "It probably seems absurd, and I'm not embarrassed, but I can acknowledge the absurdity that still more than half of the length of this eight-year project, we've had, like, plastic trashcan as our drums more than actual drums."

Well, no longer. Performing here behind the newly releasedSuch Things (Anti), Saintseneca flaunted a deeply honed musical chemistry and a more muscular, groove-oriented sound. Repeatedly during the band's 75-minute set, the song's narrators sang of being battered - "I defy the stars above to bash our milky heads in," challenged Little on the twinkling "Such Things" - but more often than not, the bandmates returned fire, coloring a range of pop-rock songs with deep, bubbling bass, chiming keyboard and crackling guitar static.

Of course, even with Wilco-esque noise elements bleeding into a handful of songs - "Blood Bath," for one, mirrored Jeff Tweedy and Co.'s "Via Chicago" as it swung between pretty folk passages and craggy flare-ups awash in crashing cymbals and feedbacking guitars - the musicians maintained the ability to bring living-room stillness to the outsized venue. Such was the case on "How Many Blankets Are in the World?," which Little performed solo and acoustic, and the tender, touching "Fed Up With Hunger," one of a handful of tunes where Little ceded lead vocals to bandmate Maryn Jones (All Dogs, Yowler).

On the former, Little, his voice holding at a conversational level, crooned of listening to Smashing Pumpkin's "Tonight, Tonight," and the exchange that happens between artist and listener once a song is released to the world. "But if it's Billy's song," he sighed, "It's mine to hold."

The bandmates engaged in a similar transaction with their audience on this evening. "I feel connected to something," Little offered on "Acid Rain," accompanied by several hundred singing patrons who undoubtedly shared the sentiment.