Thursday, May 31, 2007

!!! (Chk Chk Chk), 5.30.07, Studio B

Photo Credit

By Charlotte Deaver

"I'd like to see more people throw parties the way we threw parties in Sacramento when we were first excited about this music; we had a loft space and we played anything and we'd dance all night, you know? It was one of the best times of my life, really" says Nic Offer of !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Well, they've been taking their parties on the road for several years now, but I wouldn't doubt that the best times are yet to come for this band. Although no one seems quite sure how to describe their music: Is it House-Punk? Indie-Funk? Does it matter?! Nawww. The success and endurance of a group surely does not depend upon generic labels. If anything, the mad energy !!! generates is partly due to its very resistance to norms, its particular mix of genres, musical influences, ethnicities and a dose of sexual ambiguity.

Whatever the genre(s), this band makes you dance. And, they provide a lot more dirty raunch and funk than the vanilla indie culture (within which they operate) usually tolerates. Like indie artists Scissor Sisters and Peaches, for instance, they surely have their haters. And of course that's one of their appeals, that !!! are just outside the safety zone, a little too exuberant for the numbing conformity of the everyday.

The band's full instrumentation, including two guitars, several drummers, a juicy bass, and two, sometimes three lead singers, also contributes to the thrill of their performances. Real bodies, not machines, keep those driving beats and basslines solid. And the vocal performance spotlight is spread around the stage, with different singers offering their brand of shouts, growls, and belts.

But it's the seemingly insatiable and unstoppable Nic Offer who rounds everyone up, with his awkward arm-poking shake, his signature move which, as strange and unsexy as it is, works in his dance-punk-happy way. And as with many great live bands, bonding with the audience is key. The degree to which both audience participation and improvisation play a part in the music of !!! might be best reflected in their songwriting: “The songs are basically written four times” explains Nic [on their website]. “We write them in the practice space. Then we test them on the road. Then we take them into the studio, and relearn them before we tour with them again. So they´re always evolving. Playing them on the road has a way of making everything gel. People come to see us and party and dance, so if that doesn't happen, we´re not doing our job properly.”

They did their jobs "properly" on Wednesday night at Studio B, for sure. These folks have clearly spent a LOT of time locked together in a groove, and if you weren't dancing there's something wrong with you. Particular hits of the evening were "Yadnus," my favorite on the new record so far (very Nine Inch Nails), "Heart of Hearts," and "Must Be the Moon."

In preparation for their third record, Myth Takes, the band rented a house "on the "wrong side" of Nashville, [and] began each day with a strict exercise regime. "We all lived in this huge empty house" remembers Nic. “Every morning we'd do a kung-fu workout, and after that we'd jam all afternoon and night. I think the neighbours thought we were a cult or something. One time the postman walked up to the door when we were all in the living room, in our short shorts, chanting and contorted into these weird sweaty positions. It worked, though: don't mess with the magic." Indeed.

"Heart of Hearts" promo video clip

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Comas, 5.26.07, Mercury Lounge

By Charlotte Deaver

Rock and roll serves relatively elemental (but crucial!) sensory needs, through even more elemental (yet cruder) means: a few essential instruments, chords, and beats, a voice, a lyric, and about three to four minutes. Oh, and to make this happen, a few preferably young and cute guys are required. And now, FINALLY, so is at least one female band-member.

Photo Credit (Photo taken last January, 2007, at the Mercury Lounge.)

The Comas have this recipe down, with the latter ingredient its most primary. Nicole Gehweiler does for the band what Nikki Monninger does for Silversun Pickups (as do so many other women, too; I am simply comparing these two here because I saw the SSPUs recently and notice some vocal and other similarities). Nicole doesn't provide lead vocals for or front the band, nor is she a mere add-on. Rather, the guitar sounds and arrangements she provides are fully integrated into the band's overall sound. SSPUs without Nikki's bass? Impossible. Or, utterly different (just listen to "Waste It On" and tell me otherwise). And The Comas without Nicole? Persistent Vegetative State, perhaps? It would just be a different band. Tool vs. A Perfect Circle, for instance, or Audioslave vs. Soundgarden.

Photo Credit (Photo taken last January, 2007, at the Mercury Lounge.)

The Comas are fun to listen to because they have, yes, the right ingredients, but also the right attitude. Since emotional response is such a major part of the experience, whether live or recorded, of rock and roll, the band has to at least seem to convey what you think you like about them. So for me, The Comas are cool, but "happy-friendly" cool; they understand that rock and roll is fun and playful, but that you have to know what you're doing and be good at it; they love the genre for its dependable patterns, but also for its intricacies and range; and, just as importantly, they recognize that the genre cannot move forward without women who complete the musical picture, and not just the visual picture. Okay, I have NO IDEA whether they think these things or not. But I enjoy my fantasy. No, I believe in my fantasy!

What make The Comas distinctive are their airy, layered vocals and complementary guitar parts, which contribute to overall lushness of their sound. These filled-out arrangements lend a moodier, almost psychedelic feel to their music which is offset by crisply marked chord changes. As songwriters, they (Andy Herod, mostly) follow old-school patterns that emphasize melody and multiple-chord song structures. I can't quite place them, exactly, and I like that. They don't dress very well, either, and I like that.

At their show on Saturday night at the Mercury Lounge I was rockin' a little too much at too late an hour to pay attention to the set list, but I remember loving every song, including ones I knew, such as "Come My Sunshine" and "Red Microphones," and ones I didn't know, such as "New Wolf" and "Stoneded." All of these songs can be found on the new CD they're pitching and touring to promote, Spells. (Have it, love it!)

Photo Credit

Monday, May 21, 2007

Silversun Pickups, 5.15.07, Webster Hall

[photo credit and more photos . . .]

By Charlotte Deaver

The Silversun Pickups have a reputation for questionable live performances, but they clearly put it all out for this one. Yes, lead singer and guitarist Brian Aubert has a sarcastic side. He won me over early when he shushed noisy cell phone users (yay!) and felt it necessary to explain the laws of gravity to some particularly rowdy frat boys (said something about how it may seem cool to jump up as high as you can and smash into a pretty girl, but really, it just means you're a dick). So anyone who still loves angst and appropriate snarkiness can appreciate his persona. On their website, I read that it took awhile for the band to be comfortable on stage, and that "Aubert was initially painfully shy in front of a mike." If that's the case, then screw early reviewers, because they've got it ALL going on now, and I don't want to hear any more about their iffy live shows, darnitall!

[photo credit and more photos . . . ]

(Oddly, though, Aubert kept reminding me of Roger Federer, who seems to bear no shyness or angst -- couldn't get that almost creepy comparison out of my head. Hmmm . . . is that a tennis racket, or a Gibson?)

My first reaction to their show was "damn, this is a guitar girl's dream band!" But no, there's only one (six-string) guitar. I never cease to be amazed at how much sound, texture, and rhythm can be created by one guitar. But the instrument that cannot be overrated in this band is the BASS. Nikki Monninger plays belly-of-the-earth bass with fiery, charged tones -- just hammers every beat perfectly. She and drummer Christopher Guanlao were simply nailed together, as should always be the case, but is often not with super-white indie bands, jam bands, or just plain sloppy bands.

Finally, this is as much a song girl's band as any other sort of rock and roll. They're a smart bunch -- not just cute or young, insane or arty. They're criticized also for rehashing 90s grunge: too Pumpkins, too Nirvana. But their distinctiveness is, to me, clear: They're substantive, skilled, slightly acid, seem to both take their time and also let go, frenetically. Just ironic enough for us to know they know we know what their doing, but just sincere enough for us to care, this band
seems knowingly poised at the moment before becoming jaded -- by the industry, by haters, by their own success, by who knows what. If that does actually happen, let's hope A) that it takes a few more albums and tours, and B) I can bill retroactively for fortune-teller's fees.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


This is Kate. A friend recently rescued her and gave her a home. Isn't she pretty? I love the photograph, too, sent to me by the valiant saver-of-abandoned-fish. She looks so happy — floating in her new hammock, batting her eyelashes.

"I found him. I'm taking him home."

Subway ride back to Brooklyn, A train, 11:30 pm, 5.9.07

Monday, May 07, 2007

May Day: Immigration rally and march, 5.1.07, Union Square

These pictures have also been in my phone for a week! I admit to having stumbled by accident upon this May Day rally for immigration workers' rights. But I was so happy to have done so. The pictures speak for themselves:

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Modest Mouse, United Palace Theater, 4.29.07

By Charlotte Deaver

This show was over a week ago, so I'll cut right to it. I'd usually never see a band in a venue with seating, but damn, it was Modest Mouse! And my seat was smack in the middle of the theater, 1st row, lowest loge.

But as it turned out, the decisive drawback to the show was, in fact, the venue, the United Palace Theater. Its vast stage would be great for a Broadway show, but for rock and roll? The band sets up over ten feet deep into the stage, and then ten more feet of space are cordoned off with police gates. And, the stage is dotted with bouncers! Huh?

From where I was perched (albiet quite comfortably in my prime balcony seat, phone, notebook and pens all spread out in front me, feet up) the sound, sadly, was muffled, muddy, not crisp at all. And Modest Mouse is a crisp band: those guitars! I get a little weak in the knees just thinking about them. and now that Johnny Marr is along for the ride, we were in for quite a guitar-happy treat.

But noooo. I see live music to experience the energy, to get it under my skin, to move my body and feel like I'm right in the middle of it, of life.

This, instead, was spectacle: disengaged, impersonal, a distant, 3rd-person perspective.

I couldn't even tell what kind of guitar Isaac Brock plays (and I really, really wanted to know)! It looked like a Gibson SG, which would make sense, since he has to get so high up on the neck for those atmospheric, wavery, smooth-toned and incidental (sometimes) hammer-on-and-off riffs that make his sound so distinctive.

Nor could I distinquish Isaac's lisp, another, I argue, contributing texture to the Modest Mouse sound. And that made me sad.

Mid-set Isaac left the stage for awhile, and Johnny Marr took over, entering into a very sexy, pulsing, extended groove which slowly became distinguishable as "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes." That was by far the highlight of the evening, as Isaac reappeared and ripped the shit out of the song for at least ten minutes. Anthemic, yes, but finally the crowd got "close."

Other live versions I liked: "Edit the Sad Part," "Florida," "We Have Our Habitat," "Ocean Breathes Salty," and the evening's encores, "Fly Trapped in a Jar" and "Spitting Venom."

The theater is indeed spectacular, though: gorgeously decayed, ornate, old-world, the kind of place that seems destined for a tear-down were it not all the way up in a part of Washington Heights that has yet to be gentrified. Very cool space in that way. If having popular indie bands play there helps keep it standing, I'm all for it. But I won't be spending anymore money to sit there.