The members of Dreams and Doorways don’t make a big deal about their entrance.
Sure, a fog machine is at work and they’re accompanied by the fixed-media piece, aptly titled “Enter,” that opens their album, but they don’t need an elaborate light show or an announcer to herald their arrival. Their 150-odd audience members are already cheering.
That fact itself is perhaps one of the most refreshing aspects of Dreams and Doorways’ live show: the five men on stage are unassuming and earnest, there to officially release their debut LP, Hidden Reflections, and have fun doing it. Their stage, swimming in amplifiers and instruments (everybody does at least two things over the course of the show), is otherwise simple; a few model ships and airplanes accompany a sole hot air balloon, but visual distractions are minimal. This show is all about the band.
A fill by drummer and founding member Charles Christian segues the group, now at their instruments, into the meat of Act I: Infancy, and the soaring, groovy track “Out of the Machine.” Vocalist Keaton Bongiorno’s voice takes center stage, with meticulous note placement and a sound reminiscent of Rush’s Geddy Lee. As the group moves from one track to the next, it becomes obvious how organic their performance is. Multi-instrumentalist Chris Marchant interacts with anyone and everyone, dancing and cueing his bandmates’ entrances while switching from one instrument to the next so often it’s a pity most of his peers at Arizona State know him only as a bassoonist and occasional pianist. Christian’s time is rock solid, his fills are tasteful, and the band comes back to him—usually to share a grin and a laugh—often. Guitarist and sometimes-bassist Noah Draughon and keyboardist Jeremiah Sweeney play a more reactionary role onstage, balancing Marchant’s exuberance with a more even-keeled presence while delivering just as deliberate a sound as the rest of the group. The result: a professional-level show that makes clear to listeners exactly why they won Alice Cooper’s Proof is in the Pudding competition in 2014.
To a first-time listener, the opening tracks of Hidden Reflections may seem a bit jumpy, with transitions and metric modulations sparking a roller coaster ride that zooms through eighties rock shows, modern-day jazz concerts, and the occasional country hoedown (yes, really; check out 4:30 on track 3, “A Mother’s Hope”). Marchant flexes his classical chops on at least one occasion, quoting the opening melody from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in a solo. In the context of vibe rock, Dreams and Doorways’ self-ascribed genre, all of this makes sense; they pick and choose from the best of multiple moods and combine the pieces to create a collage of traditions and voicings that turn every track into a symphony of styles. It also explains the horn section that chimes in periodically, and after a brief acclimation period, it doesn’t matter if you’re listening for the first time or the hundredth—you’re hooked.
The first surprise comes toward the beginning of Act II: The Journey. The horns introduce us to a new song via a series of chords, and—wait, is that rap? Christian’s managed to pull a fast one on the new fans in the crowd, and his lyricism is the driving force of “Stride.” Screams fill the auditorium, and musicians and non-musicians alike marvel at the dexterity required to somersault over tongue-twisters while maintaining an active drum part (all without sacrificing the quality of either). Of all the songs we’ve heard so far, “Stride” has the most single potential, but it doesn’t feel out of place among the patchwork quilt of songs that is Hidden Reflections. Like so much of Dreams and Doorways’ musical output, it makes space for the aggressive and the serene side by side. Don’t be surprised if it’s their next featured track—and can we get a music video, please?
A few tracks later, it’s on to the dance hall anthem “Show Me How To Move,” the album’s leading single. Though they’re just past the halfway point, Bongiorno and his bandmates show no sign of fatigue. The technique and musicianship is still immaculate, and it will remain that way throughout the show. The one major drawback so far is the mixing. The set is naturally bass- and drum-heavy, but tonight’s ensemble balance favors the low end at the expense of the high instruments, the background vocals, and the horns. (After the show, Sweeney explains this is a result of a last-minute cancellation; pick up the album and you’ll hear a well-balanced mix of low notes and higher instruments.) Despite the blend and a couple of in-ear malfunctions, the band plays on. A couple ballads coerce a nontrivial number of cell phones into the air, flashlight functions enabled, and before we know it, it’s time for Act III: The Revealing.
As they launch into the newest, fully unreleased section of their album, Bongiorno takes a moment to address the crowd. “It’s okay if you don’t sing along, since none of you know these next few songs,” he quips. The lead singer’s address mirrors his stage presence—earnest and lighthearted, with the occasional joke thrown in. (“Stick to the music,” a man in the back of the crowd calls as one falls flat; the air fills with chuckles.) Although the band’s a little sweaty and likely a little tired at this point in the show, they’re energetic as ever and not quite done with the surprises they promised at the beginning. Guest vocalist and fellow Proof is in the Pudding alum Laura Walsh joins the group to contribute additional vocals on multiple occasions, including “Show Me How To Move” and “Dream Catchers,” a lush, harmony-filled ballad. The horns continue making cameo appearances, including a stellar breakdown section in “Un-United,” the standout track of Act III. During the four-minute jam, Christian returns to the mic and the forefront of the texture for several anthemic verses. Bongiorno’s vocals alternate between sweet and rough (but always on pitch). Marchant, on alto saxophone, leads the horn section’s charge. Sweeney and Draughon hold down the groove. “Un-United” is the most overtly political track on Hidden Reflections, featuring lines like “One nation under God/I find it odd how some leaders try to take his job” that create a pointed commentary on the state of the nation over a catchy, danceable track. Plan to keep it on repeat.
Just before the final track, “Credits,” Bongiorno and Marchant take a moment to thank the crowd and the small army of people who made the album and its release show possible. Their joy and adrenaline bubble over into the last song, a ten-minute odyssey through styles and bits of earlier tracks, not unlike the credit reel soundtracks of beloved video games. The highlight? An unexpected but not-unwelcome a cappella section that begins almost eight minutes in and builds back up to a full ensemble sound. After a fanfarish unison section that feels like you’ve just beaten the final boss, the music fades, with Sweeney playing the track out as the lights dim and the rest of the band leaves the stage. It’s a magical moment that mirrors the group’s first entrance and pays homage to their album’s title. (They return shortly after and bring us back up to tempo with a couple covers, including a mash-up of Michael Jackson hits that leaves your head spinning.)
After the show, the band jumps offstage and joins their audience for a reception, sharing smiles, food, and victorious high-fives with everyone. Time will tell if bigger stages await Dreams and Doorways, but for now, they’re content to enjoy the successful release of their first full-length album. Phoenix-area music lovers, stay on the lookout for their next show—and prepare to dance in your seat. ♦