All photos by Rachel Eisley
The DC Shuffle, wherein no matter how funky or hyper or boppy the music onstage is the viewer just stands there like a member of a zombie race of mindless brain-eaters, might actually be appropriate at a shoe-gazer show. On Saturday at the Velvet Lounge all of the bands could be connected musically in some way to that early 90s British movement and I was excited to be at a show where I could finally fit in. I usually am the only dork doing the twist to some indie band that everyone else is glaring at with dead lifeless faces. I remember when I saw Jesus and Mary Chain in 1992 I was very disappointed that they just stood there and played the entirety of Honey’s Dead and sounded exactly like they did on record. I’m not sure what I was expecting back then (break-dancers? I was so young, like 30…) but my stage-presence expectations were much lower this time. I was willing to be moved purely on the inside.
I got there right as Twin Earth was at the noisy apex of one of its rave-ups. The music was just a single massive chord and a drumbeat but they were moving even less than the audience, which was way too numerous for the tiny VL space. As I tried squeezing towards the front a woman turned around and looked at me in genuine disbelief, as if I had interrupted her bed of nails mediation session. Somehow I actually felt guilty for trying to move forward, I didn’t want to break the trance. So I hid in the back. Despite myself I started to like these guys after a few songs went by and I didn’t even realize they had no vocals. It’s partially that they managed to switch from ambient tootling to acidrock riffage seamlessly, but also because of the solid rhythm section that even at the most spacey feedback moments was tastefully grooving rather than disintegrating into overcrowded banging like a lot of intru-metal is wont to do. Still while they were playing I started thinking about something else, but maybe that’s the idea? To join in the open-mouth pod-person party, and daydream about Barak Obama in a bathrobe? Did I say that out loud?
Between the bands a dude with a Dead Prez t-shirt came up to a friend of mine. “Who are you hear to see?” he asked. “Um, just, everyone?” she said. “I’m the drummer from The Offering,” he said, perhaps implying that she could not refuse him? Or maybe he was just doing some viral marketing. Either way, they (http://www.myspace.com/theoffering) were next and (except for the clean shaven chatty drummer) they were hairier than the other bands. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but it may be significant. I guess they seemed more in line with the freak-folk connections that make Asobi Seksu or Celebration different from other noisy bands. On their recordings they bury the vocals in the mix and layer everything in trebly feedback but live the lead singer guy with the battered fedora yowls pretty clearly. There was even some backup singing. Because of that or because of the drummer’s pounding punk touches during some of the rocking parts I actually saw people nodding slightly and tapping their feet. While gazing at them of course. They had almost a grunge band tone to some of their songs, like Nirvana on In Utero, especially with the singers cracked, drawn-out, in-key howls. Is that OK, comparing things to Nirvana? Let’s hope so, because that’s totally a compliment.
Burying the vocals under loads of effects is de rigueur for the dream pop that A Sunny Day In Glasgow are clearly undertaking, but sometimes it’s difficult to swallow. (With your ears. Shut up, you know what I mean). Any band that names themselves after the hometown of the Cocteau Twins isn’t going to be too big into enunciation, so I wasn’t expecting to be able to hear or understand a word they were saying, but on their album sometimes the echoing utter indecipherability treads the line between intriguing and just annoying. Which is a complaint about the original Scottish bands from the 90s who sound like this too, so fair play I guess. But behind all the soggy reverb are some stellar pop tunes, so I was hoping to hear things more clearly live. This was not to be, as Robin’s vocals were still way underwater, and Ben’s guitar was cranked up into the treblesphere and painted with some kinda magic chorus pedal that manages to sound like chaos and a Phil Spector wall at the same time. With their sweaters and overall shy tweeness they reminded me greatly of some 90s K band (or Team Dresch with different progenitors), but after a few songs they loosened up a bit and started yelling Grab Your Face! at each other, apparently their motto, good as any. If I was in a band with my sisters I’d spend more time making jokes than playing music, but we’d also probably kill each other after two days on the road, so it’s awesome that they are still having fun. At its clearest, like on Best Summer Ever, ASDIG recalls the Vaselines’ cleaner and more fun pop-rock, and at one point they even tried to get the audience to clap along. Of course, just because we are hypnotized doesn’t mean we are capable of following directions, so the crowd just stared at them blankly.
MORE BRAINS LESS DANCING!!!! RAWWWWRRR!
The set up for last band, Screen Vinyl Image, made me nervous. The lead singer, J, stood in front of a rack of drum machines and slung on a guitar. The other guitarist stood towards the back, his head down in a mess of black curls as he set up a rack of pedals longer than my, uh, arm. On the left, the singer’s wife was ringed by moogs, black hair and an aura of defiant apathy. A screen was set up behind them which began displaying lava lamp colors. All signs were pointing towards self-indulgence. But as soon as J hit play on the drum sequencer, I was sold. The beats that the trio use to make Jesus and Mary Chain noises over are their not-so-secret weapon. The shit is somehow both a quality throwback to bands like Curve but with a funkier, more bass heavy modern electro element. It’s the anchor that allows them to intone lyrics like Peter Murphy or freak out on guitar like Greg Dulli without losing us. For the first time in the night I was genuinely mesmerized. The feedback and waves of screaming suddenly seemed like rhythmic Gregorian chants when coupled with the beats, and when the keyboard player moved to a third guitar and turned her back on us, she started sonically decapitating everyone with even more blasting noise. A dude in the crowd in the deafening silence between songs yelled out, “Make it louder!” and we laughed but he wasn’t kidding. I guess I have to amend my dictum about moving around during rock bands sets, since when the last song was pumping and J was down on his knees in front of his amp in the strobes just whacking the fuck out of his guitar, I realized my mouth was open and I was basically drooling like a vegetable. Voodoo? Probably. But it was worth it.