All photos: Julian Vu
All words: Shona Fenner (with special guest and birthday girl Fleming Roberts)
A crowd is nothing if not a salient force of foreshadow for a show. You all share something. You’ve come to spend your time and your energy (and your money) absorbing the talents of a specific band. This crowd was as homogenous as the front row at a Miley Cyrus concert, except replace all the screaming 10 year olds with late twenties be-speckled library dwellers in plaid.
We made the mistake of assuming we could walk to the 9:30 club at the speed of light last night and missed the opener I had been hoping to see. Ben Butler and Mousepad not only have a weird sounding name, but also a weird glitchy synth-heavy musical sound that made me curious. Was this one of those dancey electronic bands that was completely dead onstage, mixing songs I could make on GarageBand, or was there some actual impressive talent? It appears that I will never know for myself, oh well.
Ben Butler and Mousepad also have a few other aliases, such as Gay Against You and Germlin. They have remixed Deerhoof before touring with them, making this touring set a match made in heaven. Hailing from the U.K. this solo or duo act is self-described to be “excellence as in a cloud of pink TV static spreading over psychedelic gradient skies outside the window of your commuter train, analogical lightning bolts blasting in a rainbow coloured Sabbath which burns into the circuitry of your brain like the soundtrack of an old coin-op beat-em-up designed by a crazed cabal of progressive wizards and bearded Sci-Fi savants.” Wouldn’t you be curious after that description too? How was Ben Butler and Mousepad, guys?
Chain and the Gang came next as our “local” opener. Let me be the first to say that I just don’t “get it”. This band succeeded in wearing some great outfits (bright colors and prison uniforms), but on all other counts I strongly felt like it was a big joke. The blend of irony with sincerity in their performance honestly just left me confused. DC-native and front man Ian Svenonius wore a highlighter orange suit and gulped orange soda in-between wilding gesticulating up on stage. He may have looked snazzy, but the contrast of his backing band’s lethargy with his wildness made Chain and the Gang feel cartoonish and a little silly.
Ian Svenonius was incredibly interesting to watch however. He gets up close and personal with the microphone head by stuffing it in his mouth, and then clutching it tight and singing into it aggressively. Any backing vocals are from one of the girls in the band and sound stoned, soft, and completely different from the rest of the lyrics. But… maybe that is the whole point of Chain and the Gang since they did grace us with a song that included the repeated lyrics, “it’s a hard, hard job keeping everybody high/ it’s a hard, hard job keeping everybody stoned.”
I am tempted to assume that Svenonius has personal experience with being over-medicated by one of the doctors this ballad was dedicated to. Other topics of their soulful rock songs are the assassinations of MLK and JFK, or a long one about how “I’ve Got Privilege” which really is exactly how it sounds. Their revolutionary message is clear, maybe a little too much so.
Chain and the Gang have a couple records out titled Down with Liberty… Up with Chains!, (I’ve Got) Privilege, and Music’s Not For Everyone. While I can be the first to attest that their music is not for everyone, they had some real fans on Monday night and how am I to judge? At least their sound is both catchy and funky, and the subject matter is some leftist, anti-corporate, critique of culture stuff worth thinking about.
That initial assessment of the homogenous crowd still seemed on point. Also considering all of these people were clever enough to know this show was not to be missed. Deerhoof came onstage, unassuming, all wearing matching t-shirts, and proceeded to transform the 9:30 club into a Gladiator pit of contrast and sound. Well, a pit that was not too crowded for once. Fans were pogo-ing and dancing around even when the songs started to jam a little too much or got experimental. It’s hard to keep a beat if it keeps changing!
First of all, they showcased the drummer, Greg Saunier, by sticking him right up front in our faces. And thank god for that! The entire show had us watching him intently, just waiting for his kit to dissolve into a bunch of wood shards and molten disfigured metal. All that from the ferocity with which he wailed- what a sight!
It was like watching the Tasmanian devil internally combust when he flew into a rift. He stood up a couple times and gave the audience some adorable and awkward conversation, thanking us and the opening bands and generally being soft-spoken and charming. That’s about all you need to like a band, talented beats made by a polite, clever, and personable… person. But it is not that Deerhoof is simply charming, they played all the good songs.
Floating ethereally from the opposite end of the stage was the lollipop voice of teeny tiny Satomi Matsuzaki. This delicious layer cake of feather voice and gunmetal rock made me feel like I was back in Kindergarten (albeit idealized), seated neatly on a small padded blue mat, watching Ozzy Osborne bite the head off a bat while I sipped my carton of milk.
The audience was silent in sound (plaid and librarianesque as they were) but rioting in dancey, headbobby enthusiasm. They played hits both new and old; satiating the appetites of newcomers and old friends who never warmed up to any changes in Deerhoof’s sound. The bizarre combination made for a mesmerizing and fulfilling experience, much more than a rock show. The night was over with about 30 minutes left until a certain someone’s birthday and it felt like a super secret party just for us, and this group of nonthreatening strangers that I guess could pass as friends. I’ll be listening to their album in heavy rotation just to obtain some sort of acid flashback from Monday night. Just trying to get back that feeling of exaltation from the dissonance of hellfire rock and a cherub’s chime. Now ain’t that cute?