When local indie veterans Big Blue Marble abruptly announced an indefinite hiatus earlier this year, it came as a huge disappointment to many not simply because they’d represent yet another on the lengthy list of ultra-talented New Orleans-grown rock outfits that eventually give in to the perpetually evasive illusion of mainstream success and throw in the towel, but because – aside from this town’s insulation from the outside music machine – their just-released self-titled third LP was the work of an unstoppable group of musicians firing on all cylinders. With BBM absent, the local cultural landscape would ostensibly be missing an important link between the old guard of noisy, nonchalant alternative rock and the new generation of DIY indie that continually creeps closer to reaching a critical mass in New Orleans.
However, if there is any silver lining to this set of circumstances, it’s that less Big Blue Marble means more Mahayla. Essentially an earlier project formed by singer/guitarist Dave Fera and drummer Mark Davis, Mahayla met its humble heyday heavily touring in the early 2000s before calling it quits – a resignation that led seamlessly to Fera’s subsequent work in BBM. However, Fera and Davis – accompanied by guitarist Ike Aquilar, bassist Chris Johnson and keyboardist Adam Campagna – have recently picked up right where they left off nearly a decade ago, rebuilding a live presence in New Orleans opening for old touring compatriots like Camper Van Beethoven. Tonight they found themselves opening for alternative and psychedelic cowpunk legends the Meat Puppets on the stage at One Eyed Jacks, a venue whose pristine acoustics perfectly magnified Mahayla’s brand of straightforward, distortion-heavy 90s power pop that is at once noisier, tighter and more accessible than the music of Big Blue Marble.
However, it became apparent from the tight yet restrained rhythm combo of Davis and Johnson, Campagna’s understated use of synths and keys, and Fera and Aquilar’s jarring intensity through a string of songs both old and new, that Mahayla is imparting a message altogether different from that of the nostalgia-driven thrills of the bands for which they are often opening. More importantly, they don’t appear to be functioning as any sort of throwback act either: whereas the current wave of young college rock-borrowing bands are content to draw comparisons to the relatively well-known Dinosaur Jr., Mahayla probably has more in common with Sub Pop never-weres like Pond and Sprinkler.
If anything, a former lack of mainstream success serves only to compliment Mahayla’s live show as sounding less like a sentimental blast from the past and more like the refreshingly organic work of a band of youthful pros who understand the subtle balance between discordant fuzz and jangly melody that made college rock in the 90s so genuinely exciting.