Monday, June 20, 2011

Currente calamo: NXNE 2011 (Saturday)

NXNE 2011 (Saturday, June 18, 2011)

While these shows are fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. I'm a nerd for not wanting to throw my full reviews out of sequence, so there'll be a fuller accounting of the night by and by that'll include all the details on the boat cruise and the hallucinations.

8 p.m.: Cartoons @ Comfort Zone

Thought I'd check out a band called Mode Moderne at Supermarket, but it looked like the venue was running late. When I dropped in right on the hour, an unbilled previous act was still on stage. Not wanting to wait around, I ducked in to CZ to find Cartoons already on stage. As it would turn out, being five minutes late meant I missed about a third of their very brief set. Points for not overstaying their welcome. And while I found the local trio's abrasive, AmRep-styled guitar-skinning to be pretty invigorating stuff, a long set might have been too much of a muchness. On a similar path to METZ, if you're looking to situate the sound a little more. Overheard lyrics: "You're stupid!", "Kill the hostages!".

9 p.m.: Ivan & Alyosha @ Lee's Palace

With that set ending a little early, I figured I could enjoy the evening and walk a bit. I was also adjusting my plans on the fly — a couple things I was interested in were farther afield, and with all of the east-west streetcar lines being fairly unreliable due to downtown events, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get anywhere and back without missing something. I knew I would be headed to Lee's down the line, so I figured I might as well get in there while it was still quiet and see whatever was playing the early slot there.

That turned out to be Seattle's Ivan & Alyosha, a folksy combo that initially made me snidely think that this was the sort of earnest acoustic stuff that I was deliberately avoiding. Four guys lined up across the front of the stage, with an electric guitar, two acoustics and a single floor tom for percussion.1 Musically, this would fit next to the northwestern rootsy, harmony-laden adult-alternative band of your choice.2 That might sound like I'm consigning them to "generically bland" status, and yeah, that was kinda my feeling at first. But as the set went on, they mostly won me over on the strength of their likeable songs. There were some nice touches as well, like the echo-y ruffles during "Easy to Love". They were also genuinely gracious on stage, glad to be sharing their songs, even if it was to a thin early crowd.

10 p.m.: Guards @ Lee's Palace

There was a lot more of a crowd coming in for this NYC group as they set up for what looked to be a more theatrical set. There was a large backdrop with a freemason-ish logo, a lamp on stage topped by a stuffed bird and a smoke machine obscuring everything. The music had a similarly theatrical heft, dabbling in atmospherics of menacing gloom that were mixed with jaunty shots of light.

The most unique element of the band's sound were the little trills provided by an omnichord simmering under everything. It sounded so much like a key part of what the band was doing that I was surprised when vocalist/guitarist Richie Follin casually mentioned the player had never performed with the band before. Along the way, there was also a cover of MIA's "Born Free", and a closer that simmered along nicely, loping in place without becoming too static.

11 p.m.: Wild Nothing @ Lee's Palace

And then a really full house for Wild Nothing, showing how once again I'd missed the boat on a buzz-y band. Which is strange, as this was the sort of thing that I do enjoy — the jangly roll of The Smiths, but with its morose-y vibe replaced by a more upbeat, optimistic delivery. Conceptually not so far from, say, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Originating as a recording project from singer/guitarist Jack Tatum, he's now backed by a sympathetic three-piece band.

The pleasingly bouncy "Our Composition Book" won me over and from there I enjoyed the set pretty well. The music is mostly situated in a fairly narrow stylistic patch, but there were enough variations to keep things interesting. (Although that wasn't always to the good — "The Witching Hour"'s slower tempo dragged a bit and pushed Tatum a bit out of his natural range.)

The songs were all new to me, but the full-length Gemini album, out for more than a year, has apparently been around long enough that Tatum already had a couple new ones to mix into the set. The one that he closed with (key lyric: "she falls down, she falls down") was a keeper. On the whole, a good introduction, and I grabbed a copy of the album on the way out the door.

Listen to a song from this set here.

12 a.m.: Peelander-Z @ Comfort Zone

Walking into a Peelander-Z set already in progress is like picking up volume seven of a manga series, leaving you wondering how the particularly strange scene in from of you came about. Stories of the band's gleefully absurd live shows are legion, so I thought I knew what I was going to get as I hustled down into the Comfort Zone — but this was more than I was expecting. Within the first couple minutes of my arrival there were on-stage costume changes, an invasion by inflatable monsters, tin bowls and sticks passed out to the crowd for percussion and a sort of limbo contest where a rope was passed over the crowd at about shoulder level, forcing everyone to duck.

The band was formed and based in New York City, but all the players hail from Japan, and it's that antic pop-culture frenzy that informs the band as much as their no-hold-barred speed-punk tunes. In some sense the music was secondary, or at least designed to facilitate the sensory overload and participatory games. Oh, and there was human bowling.

The set ended with the band picking out members of the crowd to replace them on stage and there was so much going on that I couldn't even begin to account for it all here. But next time they come around, don't doubt and don't get hung up on words like "gimmick" — just go.

12:40 a.m.: catl @ Comfort Zone

And the sensory overload didn't end there, as catl's side-stage mini-set started as Peelander-Z's last notes were still fading. "Side-stage" is actually a rather generous description, as the trio were simply set up on the floor in the wing leading towards the bathrooms. Always a sweaty dancing celebration of the greasy get-down blues, the band was in fine form, having already played a full set upstairs earlier as well as three previous between-sets quickies. Though a good chunk of the packed house fled after Peelander-Z finished, there was a good cohort of folks ready to boogie. Playing loose and ragged, this felt just superb, a rejuvenatin' burst that gave me a second (third?) wind that carried me through the rest of the night.

1:00 a.m.: Biblical @ Comfort Zone

I'm an enthusiast for all things Steamboat-related, but I'm sure that even I can't claim to have seen all of the band's many offshoots. Because pretty much everything that these guys touch turns to musical gold, I'd been meaning to see Biblical, even if it's a bit outside my usual musical zone. Although the band includes Steamboat's Jay Anderson (drums), Matt McLaren (here on guit) and Andrew Scott (guit/organ) there's no traces of the feel-good soulful grooves that band brings. Instead, supplemented by Nick Sewell (of The Illuminati) on bass and most lead vocals, the band brings chugging hard-rock grooves, like local stoner-metal titans Quest For Fire amped up a couple notches and veering occasionally from Hawkwind-like drift (thanks to Scott's organ work) into Ace of Spaces velocity. That's intensified with Sewell's throaty growl and meaty bass-playing. Splitting the difference between cough syrup and trucker-grade speed, this was a bad-news boogaloo that had just the right evil late-night lurch.

Listen to a song from this set here.

2 a.m.: Bad Cop @ Silver Dollar

I had seen Nashville's Bad Cop before — well, sort of — but it was hard to really get the measure of the band that time, as lead singer Adam Anyone hadn't made it over the border, and the set consisted of instrumentals from the remaining pair. Making it across for NXNE, and bringing an adjusted four-piece lineup, this was a whole different story.

Even after the first song, basically a garage-y rocker, I wasn't sure what I was going to be getting, but as the band got warmed up, the set leaned increasingly to no-frills punk. And getting more exciting from song to song, mostly animated by Anyone's stage presence — as the vernacular goes, he gave good face, with animated eyes and constant motion. In fact, it was after he put down the guitar he'd been playing for the first few songs that things really took off. This would have been a perfect match with Teenanger, who'd played the same stage earlier in the night. It turned out to be an exciting and worthy set, so hopefully they'll be able to get back into the country again.

Listen to a song from this set here.

3 a.m.: B-17 @ Silver Dollar

Given the length of the day, I don't know if I'd have been able to maintain much enthusiasm for anyone playing a 3 a.m. timeslot, but this was one of my most-anticipated bands of the night. Perhaps a bit unusual for a band playing their debut performance, but these were all familiar musicians to me — Action Makes vocalist Clint Rogerson on bass, alongside Nick Kervin (of the Easy Targets) on drums and a pair of Hoa Hoa's (Calvin Brown and Richard Gibson) on guitars.

I got the impression here that instead of just getting together to jam out some covers, these guys decided to work out the fundamental building blocks of some of the bands that influenced them and come up with some new songs. The Stooges might be the key source — "Real Cool Time" was the one non-original the band tackled — but there was a lot of other ideas thrown in the mix (closer "Sabbataph" gives away where that one was leaning). Gibson handled some of the vox, but mostly handled the more tuneful guitar parts while Brown threw down with some ace feedback-drenched wah-wah.

Six originals, all told, and they all sounded pretty good. And well rehearsed — this was clearly done as more than just a whim. Let me be the first to close my review of this band with this all-too-obvious cliché, which, once used, can now be retired forever: let's hope that B-17 make another run over the Silver Dollar soon.3

Listen to a song from this set here.

1 It turned out that the usual drummer wasn't present (possibly due to those omnipresent border issues) so the bassist was covering.

2 Number of beards on stage: 2. (There was also a moustache as well.)

3 And, in fact, it looks like this will be happening: B-17 will be closing out the night at The Silver Dollar with Rayon Beach, John Wesley Coleman and Odonis Odonis on Monday, July 11, 2011.

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