Friday, August 3, 2012

Gig: The Beets

The Beets (Brilliant Colors / Planet Creature)

The Shop under Parts + Labour. Tuesday, June 14, 2011.

In the nearly six months since I'd headed downstairs at Parts & Labour, the room had a few tweaks that moved it towards its "finished" state. Most notable was the railing running down the middle of the room running parallel to the bar, giving a bit more drink-setting space. Or, in this case, a spot to put the pizzas that promoter Mark Pesci1 was carrying down to feed the bands. Some dangling white LED xmas lights were illuminating the stage area, which was quiet as the early patrons filtered in. I was reminded, once again, that shows at The Shop just don't start early, even on a Tuesday night.2

But in the meantime, there were some familiar faces to say hello to, including local openers Planet Creature. It was especially interesting to see them at this show, to try and put some thought toward a conundrum that frequently nudges its way into my consciousness: how does one rank bands that are local and that we're familiar with and have a continuing context for against ones from afar, where our expectations are conditioned by recordings and buzz and other third-hand references? Moreso, how does one evaluate musicians who are peers and acquaintances against strangers? I'm never sure which "critical discount" is bigger: the desire to, basically, be nice to people you know you're going to see around town and at other shows, or showing deference to the hype around bands that come from a cool city, or are on a cool label, etc. I would never pretend to be a particularly objective observer, of course, but by night's end this was crossing my mind as I was struggling to see if it was merely my biases that made it seem like the openers were kicking everyone else's ass.

Planet Creature were just back from recording the tracks that would become the fabulous You're On Planet Creature album, and they were at that point where they had the material down cold. There could have been no monitors, the members could have been blindfolded — one just got the impression they'd have knocked it out of the park regardless, seeing how they were playing the material with such effortless confidence, including songs like "Valentine", which hadn't been in their setlists as much.

And with that confidence, the band was positively charging through the material — I'm pretty sure this was the fastest I've ever seen 'em play. But even at that, there was nary a missed note, even on older stuff, like a rampaging drive through "Das Pirates". The only downside is that there wasn't a great vocal presence in the room, and the harmonies weren't felt as strongly as they should have been. But all told, this set showed Planet Creature's garage-pop tunes at maximum punkrock velocity, and it looked very good on 'em. After this — and this is a band that I've seen no few times — this was the standard to measure their set against.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Meanwhile, the main reason I had come to this show was to hear support act Brilliant Colors, who were exactly the sort of band that I might overvalue because of their cool exoticness. Like a lot of bands on the Slumberland label, you could probably pass off one of their songs as something from a C-86-era compilation. I liked their Introducing album — the sound of it, and the very idea of it — pretty well, though there weren't really any specific songs that stuck with me.

The San Francisco trio brought a very basic set up on the road with them, just bass and drums behind Jess Scott's pedal-free guitar, which she played raised high up on an unusually short strap.

The set led off with the quick burst of "Over There" — like their debut album, the songs were mostly around the two-minute mark. The set would mostly draw from that album, although they did play a couple tracks (including "Back To The Tricks") which would emerge on sophomore album Again and Again. And given that they are also fond of releasing a lot of non-album singles, there were a couple other things sprinkled in there, like the tasty "Walk into the World".

Scott was not much for interaction at first, and when she spoke some later on, it was fairly hard to get much of what was being said, the words coming out in the same reverb-y muddle that the songs were cloaked in. Even if there weren't a lot of lyrics that you could pick out, the band's rangy minimalism paid off — it sounded kinda great in the room, and after a few songs it was really working for me, even if, like the recorded versions, specific hooks mattered less than the tasty sonic lump of the whole thing.

During "Painting Truths", just eight songs and hardly twenty minutes into their set, it all lurched to a sudden and unceremonious end, thanks to a broken guitar string. "This'll take forever, so... thanks," commented Scott as the band called a halt.

"Live-ness" can definitely paper over the problem of semi-indistinct songs kinda blending together, and here, the set came and went in a most pleasant flash. If the greatest pleasures the band brings are merely transient, that's not too bad a starting place. As it stands, they have shown a bit more ability to sonically separate the songs from each other on their second album — and as for how that comes off live I will have more to say on commenting about the next time I saw 'em.

Listen to a track from this set here.

I didn't really know anything about The Beets coming into this show. My first impression was that they must have a rather meticulous sensibility, given the amount of time that they were taking not only to set up their instruments, but to dress the stage as well. There was an illuminated globe under a large backlit American flag and a couple banners, the more bold of those stating, in block letters, "THE BEETS I'D RATHER WATCH PAINT DRY".

Attending to all the bricabrac would be a non-playing member of the band's retinue, sitting on the floor, flicking lights on and off while the trio of musicians cranked out the songs' quick jabs. The music turned out to be short, scrappy bursts, played as a nonstop thrust with one song careening into the next, the rumble all backed by a consistent Mo Tucker-ish beat to support the co-bellowed vox. With that driving rhythm and caustic sensibility, locals The Soupcans came to mind a bit, though The Beets sounded like they were approaching the songs with more of a distorted pop sensibility, and with about as much sardonicism as The Soupcans bring menace.

There was, as one might say, a singularity of purpose to their musical attack (though a cynic might simply call out the band for playing repeated variations of the same song). And perhaps the band was no deeper than the concerns in their titles ("I Don't Know", "Watching T.V.") but it got the crowd worked up and wiggling, so they were doing something right, even if they seemed to relish heading right for that fine line between clever and stupid.

With nine songs in about eighteen minutes, nothing overstayed its welcome. Only closer "Flight 14" stretched out to any appreciable distance past the three-minute mark, and then the set was finished in less time than they had taken to set up. I wasn't overpowered or converted, but it was a quick enough jolt to keep me entertained.

Listen to a couple tracks from this set here.

1 More recently, it was nice to see Pesci get some well-deserved recognition for his non-stop work at putting a wide spectrum of DIY shows together.

2 I was also pleased to see that the pricelist behind the bar included EARPLUGS $2 — a necessity in this loud, enclosed space, and something that should be on offer at every venue for folks who haven't invested in a good, permanent pair. P.S.: if you go to shows with amplified music on any sort of frequent basis, you should own a decent pair of ear plugs. A proper pair will not muffle or distort the sound — they will, in fact, make things easier to listen to and being out details that would otherwise get bludgeoned in noise. And you will enjoys shows way more if your ears aren't ringing afterward.

No comments:

Post a Comment