Saturday, April 21, 2007

art brut - two nights for the price of two

art brut's magic has always been two-fold, from the biting witticism of lead singer eddie argos's studio lyrics to their raucous live shows that make the floors shake from the jumping. i had been smitten with art brut ever since "formed a band," the first song on last year's bang bang rock & roll, and i needed no excuse to see them this week on their american mini tour. their show at southpaw last year had literally left me floored, so it was a no-brainer when i saw they were playing at both bowery ballroom and studio b - i got a ticket for each night and made sure my dancing shoes were clean. here are the stories:

4/17/07 - bowery ballroom with ra ra riot and holy hail

i've had terrible luck getting good openers at bowery ballroom far too often. i saw the hold steady there last year, an
d black mountain had visa problems, so they replaced him with a judas priest cover band and a local mediocre alt-country band, a situation that seems endemic to the venue. this show's openers had a similar cobbled-together-quickly feel, with ra ra riot coming from syracuse university and holy hail from the l.e.s., no doubt. ra ra riot put on a good show for such a young band and had tons of energy, jumping around and headbutting each other, their enthusiasm making up for the lack of musical nuances. they had a cello and violin, which added a little bit of cool to their sound, which was layered and driven. however, the cello was entirely lost in the mix, though the violin came through loud and strong. their sound is not mature enough to compare it to anything like land of talk, but i would think that's where they're heading, strong repetitive guitars supporting vocal/violin melodies. maybe check them out in a few years.

holy hail, on the other hand, was downright awful. jesus. partway through their set, i started asking myself if coming tonight was even worth it, they were so bad. they had a crappy, played out, dark synthy rock sound accentuated with yelps and screams and entirely indistinguishable vocals. they didnt use much in the way of dynamics or tempo changes or any concessions to musical ingenuity and flexibility, and even stood still most of the time, just like the audience. what a mistake, coupling them with the 'brut. even worse, their set felt like forever, and was nearly 40 minutes long...i would've preferred ra ra riot played an extra 10 minutes than listen to holy hail longer. seriously gross.

but then, thank the gods, there was art brut to save the night. thanks to a vegan in brooklyn, i had downloaded five new songs and was prepared to sing along; a wise decision, since they opened the night with "pump up the volume," a seriously philosophical song that debates the wisdom of breaking from a kiss to turn up a pop song. the conclusion? well, go for the pop song, of course. other new songs included the also-downloaded "direct hit," which exhorted the crowd to move around like their shoes didn't fit, and many obeyed. by the third song, which was probably "bang bang rock & roll," the whole front of the stage was jumping and pushing and was awesome. the crowd literally went from maybe a one on the excitement meter to at least an eleven. in addition to the brilliant "nag nag nag nag," released as a single in the u.k. last year, art brut rocked all the songs i had downloaded as well as three other new ones, "people in love," "i will survive," and "blame it on the trains" (i'm not positive about the last one). which was all good and well, and very exciting for it's a bit complicateds june 19 release on downtown, but most of the crowd obviously hadn't heard any of the new stuff, and the best responses came to favorites off bang bang. "rusted guns of milan" enjoyed a big sing along, and "bad weekend," introduced as a blues song by a blues guitarist (ian), played early in the set, got the crowd moving like mad. the biggest hit of the night, of course, was the inimitable "modern art," replete with backup vocal yelping and superincredible dancing in the pit. at the end of the song, eddie jumped into the crowd, driving everyone into a jumping screaming frenzy for at least two minutes as he navigated his way back to the stage. during "moving to l.a.," eddie displayed his airplane prowess and informed the crowd he would not only be drinking hennessey with morrissey, but that he would also imbibe rose with axl rose, stella with paul weller, and a couple other celebrities i can't remember now.

while we're on the topic of argos's in-show vocal improvisation, he does it. a lot. not only on
"moving to l.a.," but on "modern art," "post soothing out," "late sunday," and a handful of other tracks, which, for me, is part of the live art brut magic. all of their antics, from jasper's pointing (eddie repeatedly claimed this stems from his inability to actually play the guitar) to argos's own fun, which happens mostly during the instrumental bits. during their inestimably fun love song "emily kane," argos jumped rope with the microphone cord and later did pushups with the same candidness and tongue-in- cheekness that is part of everything art brut does.

art brut's mission remains the same as it ever was: getting everyone in the
whole world to form a band. in one of the many mid-song interludes, eddie argos ordered the crowd to go home and make a band the next day, comparing how much fun we in the pit were having with how much more fun everyone on the stage was having (apparently, they were having a whole lot more). other argos interludes included a long rant in "emily kane" about how absolutely stupid we all were to listen to people in bands, because bands lie and make things up. in interviews, argos often talks about how uncynical american audiences are, and how easily we all buy into the reality of emily kane, but why he feels so strongly that we shouldn't believe him, i don't know. there is one band that argos believes in and told the crowd to believe in as well: the mountain goats (more on this later).

art brut gave us a double encore of "my little brother" and "good weekend," which included a nice little bit of "formed a band" in the middle. argos recited his standard schtick about "good weekend"and how it was top of the pops everywhere that doesn't have top of the pops (the now-deceased british television program), including germany, sweden, portugal, narnia, hogwarts, and the american independent charts, to the great delight of the crowd. by the time they finally left the stage, it was like the rest of the night hadn't even happened.

4/18/07 - studio b with o'death

after how fucking awesome the previous night's show was, i had high expectations for this one. i had never been to studio b before, but had heard about how good the crowds are and was totally psyched for more sweaty dancing. this was a todd p show, which also contributed to my excitement, and the press on o'death has been really favorable. so, basically, my excitement was at an all-time high for this show.

it started on a bad note. i hate wearing pants to show where i know i'm gonna dance, so i wore shorts, like i did the previous night. however, i arrived at bowery ballroom aft
er the doors opened, so i didn't get cold outside. i got the studio b right around the advertised door time of 8 pm, and then stood outside for 40 minutes for no reason along with everyone else. so that sucked and put me in a bad mood for starters. o'death was simply fabulous, however. their myspace describes them as gothic/country/punk, a fairly spot-on assessment, though i would think less punk with a double scoop of gothic. the sound itself, the fidelity, has a lot in common with iron & wine, but greg jamie's vocals are thin and reedy, almost piercingly high and melancholy like you can only get in country. you can almost taste the agony during the slow parts, and you can't help but stomping your feet when they get good and riled up, which happens often. they're all obviously very talented musicians, and i definitely want to hear a lot more from them in the future. they have a lot of mp3s here, and i'll post some at the bottom as well.

the worst part of the o'death set was that they only play for 20 minutes. what's up with that, todd p? i'll tell you what's up with that - it was for the same reason that art brut was off the stage and packing up by 11. soulwax and 2 many djs were playing a set afterwards. i really hate that shit. i didn't know that until afterwards, but it's such fucking bullshit. that, plus the awkward setup of studio b, really soured me on the venue, and i don't think i'll be going back there anytime soon (it's also fucking way far away from the L train).

i think, by the time the show started, it was another sold out one for art brut, but the dynamics w
ere really different than the previous night. i recognized some familiar faces from the night before, but the energy level was entirely different. art brut opened the night with "pump up the volume" again, and it seemed like, right there, the second-nighters resigned themselves to the same set as at bowery. sadly, it was indeed virtually the same. they played "my little brother" during the set this time, but there weren't any different songs. there was a request for "maternity ward," but eddie said jasper didn't know how to play it. in this same vein, much of the banter was the same. there were the same exhortations to form bands, the same chiding for believing in what bands say (this time, it was except for the mountain goats and the hold steady), the same new lyrics to "moving to l.a." that was really disappointing for me, but it was understandable at the same time. the crowd was really bad, with very little dancing until 3/4 of the way through the set. even as eddie dove into the crowd during "modern art" few people were moving around. the stage at studio b is much smaller than bowery, and i maintain that small stages are terrible because it gives the crowd less space to be close to the band as well as condensing the band space. eddie couldn't move around without having to duck because of the lights, and i think it was a bad setup overall.

two nights of art brut might have been one night too many, for a few reasons. the venue and crowd at studio b was definitely to blame for a lot of the less-than-stellarness of
the second night, but if art brut had made a different setlist and new jokes, that would've gotten a lot of repeat-nighters more involved. when they come back to new york, if they play two shows, i think i'll just go to one next time, but we'll have to wait and see how fucking awesome it's a bit complicated is actually gonna be. i've got the faith.

as for it's a bit complicated, it's due out on june 19 on downtown and pitchfork has the tracklist. they've also got a dvd coming out on may 22 (though eddie isn't thrilled about it...check back later for more). i've posted an o'death song and two new art brut gems, "nag nag nag nag" (though, to be fair, this has been online for at least six months) and "direct hit," both off complicated. all five of the leaked tracks are here.

o'death - "down to rest" their album head home is being re-released on june 12th by ernest jenning. check out or itunes for more.

art brut - "nag nag nag nag," "direct hit." bang bang rock & roll is still available; it's a bit complicated drops june 19 on downtown records.

1 comment:

molly said...

yo will. you should come to portland, there's so much great music here to dig. like that sold out pony up!/mountain goats concert i got into for free, i think i told you about it. oh and another thing.. i have a friend in ra ra riot! milo, as in and otis, (i think he plays guitar, but i'm not really sure) went to syracuse and we were in italy together. rockin'. go orange.