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Headphones On: Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers



“Pluto” is an ambient journey, but this group must be seen live

Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers came into my life this past fall. My friends and I decided to make a quick trip to South Bend’s fairly unknown (but absolutely excellent) music venue Vegetable Buddies. The Seekers were one of two bands that played the venue that evening. Frontman Joe Hertler arrived on stage wearing what can only be described as rainbow bird wings. It was jarring, but moreover it was intriguing, and when I see a band whose frontman has the confidence to wear rainbow bird wings… Well, I can do nothing but listen.

Listen I did, and surely I was in for a treat. The group states on their website, “The live show is the purpose of the band. This is why we make music.” This was immediately evident; from Hertler’s rainbow wings to the groovy hairdo of saxophonist Aaron Stinson, it was clear that this group lives to perform. Their live music is excellent and moreover, they know how to put on a show! I’ve never seen so many people get up and dance in such a small venue. The members have an evident charisma to them that is ordered towards (and necessary for) the creation of great live music.

The group addresses a variety of genres, from folk Americana to psychedelic funk, and they do so with gusto and impressive instrumental talent. Genuine six-piece bands are hard to find today, due to limited musicians, the inherent difficulty in organizing six individuals, and the trickiness in writing music for six members when the general standard has moved so totally towards four-piece groups. With that in mind, it is terrific to see a six-piece work so effectively together.

Listening to their music live is definitely the way to go based on the strength of their personalities alone; but if that’s not a possibility, I wholeheartedly recommend giving their album Pluto a listen.

Pluto opens with the anthemic “Lonely.” This track features a wonderful saxophone riff, and the repetitive, burn-down-the-house lyrics evoke the joyous nature of their live shows. It’s a fitting track to open the album. The group has a penchant for sonic experimentation—this is clear from the ambient flute solo at the end of “Show and Tell” and the harmonium-esque instrument that opens up “Crimson Line.”

Hertler is an accomplished lyricist; this is evident in the aforementioned “Crimson Line.” As an example: “As staccato mountains rise to meet their morning form / Their peaks ignited while the sun reaches on overboard / The horizon eviscerate, casting its rays / Like the entrails of a thousand lifetimes in the wake / My shadow lengthened across an arid sea / I went to chase, but lost it under a rolling reef / Of clouds overhead, boiling past a crimson line.” This is one of the most effective lyrical representations of a sunset that I’ve read, and the band sets it perfectly with a creative, syncopated drum backing that evokes the cyclical nature of the passing of days and their rebirth when the sun returns the next day.

“Old Love” is my personal favorite, a compelling track that sounds quite unlike the rest of the album. This Motown funk feels halfway like a lost Temptations track with its swooping string lines and backing vocals, and halfway like an Earth, Wind, and Fire B-side. The poetry of the song is compelling as well. “We met on the battlefield / Drank from the ladle by the moon / The blood expanded across the field / Like chrysanthemums in bloom / Is there really so much to fear / When we’re all just taking sides / So work it out.” It finds itself somewhat vague from time to time, but based on the high quality of rest of Hertler’s lyrics, I find myself assured that the vagueness is intentional and meaningful in a way I haven’t been able to grasp. And if not; well, I appeal to the fact that I simply can’t listen to this song without a smile on my face.

These Rainbow Seekers from Lansing, Michigan are an impressive bunch. Hertler’s mature lyric voice, combined with the group’s instrumental ability and creativity, lead to a compelling record that is definitely worth a listen. But I simply can’t think of any better way to enjoy this group than live. Their love for performance is infectious and can’t be pared down to the limitations of an album. So give them a Google, get out to one of their concerts, and enjoy one of the bands you’ve never heard of.

Zach is a sophomore majoring in Music and the Program of Liberal Studies. He writes a whole lot of album reviews. You can reach him at zpearson@nd.edu.

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