The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday May 25th

Apple Juice Delivers Bold Taste but Struggles Against Bland Repetition

Apple Juice Orchestra
Cat's Cradle

Don't mistake the Apple Juice Orchestra for an opening act. The group is hardly background Muzak -- hardly that strumming sweet nothing that makes it hard to chat in the club's rear.

But on Sept. 12 at Cat's Cradle, too many people made that mistake.

The Orchestra played first in the double bill with Club d'Elf, and the crowd was all too paltry until Orchestra wound down its set.

Maybe the late-arriving Club d'Elf fans underestimated the Orchestra -- but they shouldn't have. The Apple Juice Orchestra wasn't an added attraction. The group was worth the trip alone.

The group filled the club with its unique sound -- an electronic, trippy funk. Lady leader Jana Privette sang in a wounded, ethereal whine over the Orchestra's dense bed of samples, bass and trip-happy drums. The band sounds at times like a groovier Portishead, equal parts creepy and dreamy while sweet and sensual.

Privette, guitarist Dana Chell, and drummer Steven Levitan appear more frequently in the area as integral parts of local hip-hop sensation Sankofa, and their individual prowess is evident. The Apple Juice Orchestra could hardly be made of better or more skilled musicians. They pulse and play with a confidence and a cohesion that a lot of other unsigned bands don't display.

Each member wore all white, offering a sanitized image on stage -- their clothes reflected the sharp, polished edges of their sound. Privette even wore white gloves, channeling a '50s lounge singer dame drenched in reverb. And with her purring, playfully naughty delivery, Privette makes a magnetic center stage. All eyes are drawn to her.

From its rock edge to its bongo blitz, the Orchestra was impressive. But for all its skill, the songs suffered from an uninspired monotony.

They all blended together, the memory of one never lasting as long as the next song the group performed. As polished as the band's sound is, its songwriting could use an equally distinctive polish. A fan walks out of the club having enjoyed the Orchestra's set but without a memorable morsel to cling to.

The group tended to add as many layers as possible, and often with too much force. The result was a constant soup, working against itself. The sometimes blaring landscape was too difficult to break down or to appreciate fully. But when the group reigned itself in, the music shone -- but too briefly.

At less than an hour, the set was too short for the crowd's eager tastes. As the band made its way off the stage, the growing audience called for more.

The Apple Juice Orchestra paused noticeably at the end of the stage, debating whether to stay on and appease the fans. The group eventually disappeared, and the house music creeped into the speakers -- the group either unwilling or unable to whirl and spin out another song or two.

Those late to arrive might have taken the Orchestra's inaction as a sign of the band's inexperience, that the group must have simply been another limited opening act.

But those there for the entirety of the group's set knew better.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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