It's been a couple of weeks since the last round-up, which is due to a sharp decline in concertgoing for one week (I saw exactly 0 bands between 5/9-16) on account of being super duper busy, and then not having much time for writing on account of still being super duper busy. But since the 17th I've found my way to a few great shows (and a couple of reaaaally strange ones). Here's the skinny.
On Thursday, May 17, Midriff Records hosted a showcase at T.T. the Bear's, which included performances by four Midriff acts and one guest band, Black Helicopter, who are signed to Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace label. I caught four of the five sets (apologies to EEE Adams, whose early set I missed). E.R., or Eldridge Rodriguez, played a phenomenally tight set. It had been a few months since I last saw him and this performance blew me away. His warbling vocals and thoughtful lyrics about social and personal injustices combine over a steady rock bBetsy Boston's [three] Week[s] In Rock | Three Imaginary Girlseat, heavy on melody but softer than his work with The Beatings, his longtime band. Pending Disappointment thrived on offbeat time signatures and played a couple of catchy songs. Black Helicopter was somewhat disappointing — the band released a stellar album last year, Invisible Jet, and they played many of the songs from that album but there was little showmanship. Mostly they just stood around playing their instruments, and the songs were heavier on noise than on the album, obscuring the pretty melodies. E.R. shook things up by jumping on the bassist's back during the final song and provided backup vocals from his perch.
Headliners The Beatings are one of Boston's most underrated bands, hands down. Their most recent album, Holding On to Hand Grenades, was nothing short of a masterpiece, but maybe their signature noise-rock sound has potential listeners scared off. It's too bad, because they are, as we say, wicked awesome, and at this show they were particularly rock-solid. Guitarists/vocalists Tony Skalicky and E.R. trade off vocals, Skalicky singing in his deep indie tone while E.R. takes on the scream-singing role; bassist Erin Dalbec, about half the height of Skalicky, sways and smiles while carrying out the low end and occasionally taking the vocal lead; and drummer Dennis Grabowski is thrilling behind the skins — in fact, I consider him one of the best rock drummers in town. The Beatings have made their way across the states a few times, so watch for them next time they come to Seattle.
The following night I was back at T.T.'s for Township, Choo Choo La Rouge, The Downbeat 5 and Richard Lloyd (of '70s rockers Television). Choo Choo La Rouge opened to an almost empty room that filled in as their set progressed. Their danceable rock sound was fun and exciting; I especially liked their use of the bass guitar in melodies. Township was on second, and vocalist/guitarist Marc Pinansky was on fire as he belted out all their classic rock hits-in-the-making while nearly knocking drummer Greg Beadle's drums over a few times before ending the set by standing on the bass drum and raising his guitar to the heavens. Guitarist Carter Tanton, who usually lurks in the shadows of stage right, sang lead on one song, nailing it perfectly and further piquing my curiosity about his other band, Tulsa, who I've yet to see (but surely will soon!).
Next on, Boston garage rock mainstay The Downbeat 5 played a strong punk-propelled set, with lead vocalist Jennifer D'Angora capturing the room with her rock 'n' roll howl. The bandmembers were engaging and played flawlessly to a thrilled crowd. Then things got weird. After a long break, Richard Lloyd hit the stage and started talking, though from where I was I couldn't make out anything he said. Word slowly spread around the packed club that Lloyd had demanded complete silence from all in attendance before he would start his set.
This charade went on for a solid 20 minutes, during which time he even made his way around the club with one of his "people" in tow (perhaps his manager, who was rumoredly fired after this show), pointing out people who were talking and who he wanted removed — myself and a friend included (though nothing came of it). Eventually Lloyd and his band, comprised of three guys much younger and much less drug-ravaged than him, started playing — and actually kicked some serious ass, much to the dismay of those of us who were hoping he'd suck after his diva behavior. But, in his inside-out "Inspi-RED" t-shirt, Lloyd played very perfected rock 'n' roll music with the help of a highly pro young band. The irony was that the music was good enough that people would have shut up and listened if they'd just started playing; but instead, Lloyd pissed enough people off that they either left or stepped up their disturbances in protest, and he likely lost a few potential fans. (I just checked the news page on his website, and read his own description of his upcoming album, a further example of how modesty is not his strongest suit.)
A few nights later, I found myself in Davis Square again hanging with Andras Jones, of The Ego and the Oracle, whose recent firing from the production has resulted in his personal quest for both an explanation and justification. We took in the show with that night's guest host, Shawn Peters, whose disconnection with the show was clear (especially having seen Jones helm it a few weeks back) and whose jokes were a bit on the Captain Obvious side. Where Jones led the show with a pure belief in, and respect for, the power of the universe's synchronicity, Peters led it with improv theatre intentions, but wasn't quick-witted enough to pull them off, leaving the whole thing comparatively flat and ingenuine. Jim of Jim's Big Ego did in fact acknowledge Jones' presence by announcing that the creator of the show was in the audience, after being visibly urged by drummer Dan Cantor to do so. Jim's Big Ego continue to impress with great songs and musicianship, but the show was markedly not as good as the first time I saw it.
Afterwards I met up with my photographic sidekick Andy Be at Sally O'Brien's, an Irish dive that's recently stepped up its music booking in light of the closing of Tir na Nog, a beloved Irish pub down the street. Dennis Brennan, one of the fathers of Boston roots rock, was in the midst of a set, with The White Owls, of bluesy roots rock, complete with harmonica. He'll be at Sally's every Sunday in June. What's better on a Sunday night than a bluesy jam and some Keno?
On Thursday night the 24th, it was off to Sky Bar, another dive that's been stepping up its booking lately to cover more diverse ground (now if they'd just get rid of the blacklights and dated art deco decor…), to hear Muy Cansado. I got there in time for the opening act, which challenged Richard Lloyd for the Week's Weirdest Live Experience Award: the band, Penthouse J, put everyone in the room in the awkward position of not knowing whether to laugh uncontrollably or just look away. Of all nights to forget my camera! The singer was dressed like Don Johnson circa Miami Vice — white blazer and pants — and wore sunglasses w
hile singing completely monotone; he was flanked by two female dancers who wore bikini tops and short skirts with knee-high black boots. They didn't dance in tandem or have any choreographed routine; one was actually pretty good, dancing herself silly to the world's most boring songs, while the other was very self-conscious and awkward. Behind all this were a bassist and a guitarist, both dressed in all black and looking like they'd be better suited for a metal band, and another dude behind a laptop who was dressed in a Charlie Chaplin getup. The laptop supplied the beats for the songs, which all sounded exactly the same (think Trio's "Da Da Da" but much much worse), and eventually the "singer" took off his jacket, revealing a tastelessly skin-tight, nipple-exposing white spandex t-shirt. Me and my friends weren't sure if the whole thing was for real or if it was all a big joke; sadly for the band, it turned out to be the former.
A day or two later we had a good chuckle when someone discovered this Craigslist posting.
Muy Cansado were well worth enduring the horrors of the previous act. A guitar-bass-drums trio, they played a long set with songs flavored by influences like The Pixies and David Bowie. Guitarist/vocalist Chris Mulvey sang passionately and fluidly while bassist Lisa Libera and drummer David Fine held down the rhythm. Libera's left fingers were impressively nimble and she provided lead and backup vocals as well, visibly in a zone with a big smile on her face the whole time. They rocked exquisitely and had the room enchanted, securing a spot on my mental 'bands to watch' list. The following night, I was back at Sally's for The Motion Sick, a band whose sound calls to mind The Decemberists and who get some serious props from Spin magazine readers recently. Before their own set, three members provided backup to Okay Thursday's Sarah Korval, whose bandmates recently quit on her, leaving her with shows scheduled and no band. The Motion Sick did a stellar job backing up Korval's lovely pop vocals.
Another band played in-between but (apologies to them) I was tuned in to some important conversation for most of their set. Ok, and I was pretty drunk. There I said it. The Motion Sick made my giddy drunk ass dance like a fool. And that's really all I remember.
Sunday night, May 27th, I was super pumped to finally get to see Thee More Shallows, a band I've been mad about for two years but who haven't come to Boston once in all that time until now. See my review of their new album here. I got there in time for the third band on the bill, Bullpen Catcher — a two-piece guitar/drums band who we later found out actually has a third member on bass who couldn't make the show (it was the big holiday weekend after all). We would never have known that anything was missing during their fantastic set of poppy, fast-paced melody-drive rock that sounded somewhat like Mission of Burma; now I'm looking forward to seeing them in entirety, for the full experience.
Thee More Shallows were better than I ever expected. I've long awaited seeing them live and I left feeling completely satisfied. On stage right sat a red hard-shelled suitcase, and from within it came the sounds of toy pianos, synths, and effects. The red suitcase of love, as I liked to think of it, was a central element of their show, which featured Dee Kesler at center stage on guitar while Jason Gonzales and Chavo Fraser traded duties on drums, bass, keyboards and red suitcase of love tricks. The band played songs from across their catalog, starting with "Monkey vs. Shark" and sailing along fluidly through "Night at the Knight School" from the new album Book of Bad Breaks, "2 a.m." from More Deep Cuts (probably my favorite TMS song), and many others, before finally encoring with "Ask Me About Jon Stross." Seeing them live gave me a new understanding of this band; their songs are works in progress, always open for new interpretations, and not restricted to what they sound like on record. Each song had new twists and effects. The bandmembers were engaging to watch, and Kesler poured so much into his vocals that at times his eyes would roll upwards and almost cross while he belted out a note. The long line at the merch table afterwards evidenced the band's effect on the very delighted, though sadly small audience.
Join me next week as I'll have many exciting tales to tell from shows by Antiques!, The Pharmacy (from Seattle!), Cansei de Ser Sexy!, Yo Majesty!, Smoosh!, The Pipettes!, Township!, Mean Creek!, This Car Up!, and who knows who else?! Can you tell I'm very excited about the upcoming week?!