Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New stuff VI: Live shows

C4RT/Madman Films/Hopewell @ TT the Bear’s, 9/14
Why?/Deerhoof @ Middle East Down 9/15
Lucero @ Middle East Down 9/18


I dug through my files to no avail- couldn’t find the episode of my old Frame 609 series that details this one week when I went to like four shows. I know Sunny Day Real Estate’s reunion was in there, maybe a Discount gig, probably either Garrison or Hip Tanaka. I remember feeling completely spent at the end of that stretch of days/shows. Course, I was smoking a pack a day and getting like four or five hours of sleep a night. The week that just ended featured three shows in seven days (not to mention a few nights on the back porch, a couple nights with an old Boy Scout camp buddy and his actress girlfriend, and, of course, a few evenings with a British bachelorette party). Somehow, I managed to find the time to hang out until four every night AND remember to eat and sleep. Crazy!

On Tuesday, I arrived at TT’s a little before eleven, managing to miss the entire Campaign For Real Time set and thusly thwarting my plans to run a review of ‘em in this space (coming soon, fret not). I confess to only kinda paying attention to Madman Films during their set- they sounded like some new jack D.C. band trying to summon and filter the Minutemen. I mentioned the analogy to the singer after the show, on my back porch, and he confessed to being more of a fIREHOSE fan (which I thought was cool as shit).

I bumped into Linden from Hopewell before they went on and told him that he was going to be heckled. He smiled, said go for it, and did pretty well when I started giving him shit for playing the tambourine during one of the band’s songs. I thought they were pretty good- these huge, huge buzzing, droning anthems that would occasionally lurch in unexpected directions. The whole shoegaze thing, as far as I can tell, was about generating this wall of guitar swirl, then blissing out, man. It’s not a style that I’ve spent a lot of time with, so I don’t have an enormous bank of references to draw from. I do know that TT’s is a club that typically doesn’t do a lot to help the live sound of bands, but Hopewell still managed the good sonics and the aforementioned kinks in the formula to keep things engaging. I bet they smoke a lot of pot, and they dealt with the heckles well (you’d kinda have to be a huge pothead to get up onstage on a Tuesday dressed in all white save for cowboy boots).

Over to Middle East on Wednesday for Deerhoof with the Black Tank, M. Barre and the Dromgooles (sounds like a band). The press surrounding Deerhoof made me think that I was going to be seeing something radically different than I did. Everyone’s been talking about the band like they’re the nuts, this crazy band that spazzes out all over the place with the help of a cute little Japanese singer. Sorry, but when I’m told that a band is spazzy, I picture short blasts of intense bleat- I was thinking that I’d get something along the lines of like The Locust or Swing Kids. The bands that I’ve heard that have woman Japanese singers have tread on similarly spazzy ground- Melt Banana and the Boredoms, screaming their heads off, freaking the fuck out up there. So, though the band was playing this pretty weird, interestingly constructed and textured stuff, it was very rarely as heavy or freaky as I thought it might be, and the singer, instead of yelling, was CUTE. What the fuck gives? I mean, they were fine and all, but again, the hype and press the band has garnered made me think something much, much more coo-coo would be happening up there. I should go back and listen to earlier stuff, blah blah blah, I know.

The opener was this band called Why? Google searches for the band were frustrating as shit, as you can imagine (a lesson this scribe learned by naming his web page ‘A-Z 2005’, believe you me). My roommate mentioned them in a hip-hop context. While I was watching ‘em, I thought the band’s cohesive, kinda complex sound was reminiscent of Three Mile Pilot (though one of the guys from the band, when I mentioned this, had never heard of that act before. Dude, Fagen Kenobi!). The music wasn’t the usual fare for the kind of vocals that were being kicked- I’ve heard such vocals in enough situations and convolutions so that I tend to think that they’ve gotten past the point of being an homage or a theft and are now officially a Style Of Vocals (think about all the singers that aped Eddie Vedder’s throaty yowling after Pearl Jam blew up, f’r example). The dude from Why? does that lilty, heavily emphasized poetry-slam sp/ung vocal that first surfaced, in a much less self-aware form, in some of Camper Van Beethoven’s stuff, and was put through the wringer by Dismemberment Plan, Cake, and, most obviously, Soul Coughing. Unlike M. Doughty’s act, though, there was a frantic energy to Why’s music, none of the cool, unurgent loll of the Coughing. I’d check out more of Why?’s stuff if I could find it. Seriously, bands in this day and age have gotta be aware that innocuous names are only going to hinder them when the web searches begin. Trust me, I know.

Finally, Lucero downstairs at Middle East the other night, scant days after I posted my “why alt.country?” review of one of their albums. After seeing the band play live, the act themselves make more sense to me, and some of the press- the original thrust of my argument- makes less. The crowd, for one thing, put things into context. Kids with way too many tats, Castro caps, plenty of black, studs- the crowds, in other words, that I would expect at a basement show. I recognized a bunch of people in the crowd by sight, and I haven’t been to a lot of shows lately- these are people from back in the DAY. They radiate like it was eighty-eight, kid!

The guys in the band followed the same mold as the crowd- ink aplenty, patchy tour beards, work pants, chain wallets. Their songs carried some of that everyman grit that made John Cougar Mellencamp so big, except Lucero’s everyman doesn’t live on a farm in the middle of some cornfield- s/he lives in a group house and works some slacker job. They’re appealing to the kids that buy records on the No Idea label and missed out on the heart-on-sleeve that the Replacements and Jawbreaker were so good at. The latter, in fact, were covered at the show, albeit twangily and subtly. Lucero had every right to make a big deal out of covering a Jawbreaker song, such is that band’s mystique, but they didn’t- they just threw it in and if you got it, great. A quarter of the crowd did- not bad for a comp track (“Kiss The Bottle”, one of Jawbreaker’s best). I laughed my ass off when someone on the side of the stage yelled “We love Jawbreaker!” and the singer said “What are you, 34?” Perfect. The torch being passed, all that bullshit, through signifiers. If Lucero covered Merle Haggard in a serious manner and dressed more country, they’d be more country. But, they’re doing roots rock for the same kids that listen to like Grabass Charlestons and Hot Water Music.

(One last thing about the show- another Mary Lou Lord sighting. The last time I saw her at a show was when she walked out of the Lungfish show with her hands over her ears. This time she seemed to be enjoying herself a lot more, though for the life of me I have NO idea how or why she always seems to be wearing a big, poofy ski jacket, even when it’s like eighty outside. What up, Mary Lou?)

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