all words: Phil Runco
all GREAT photos: Julian Vu
Hearing the Go! Team’s 2004 debut Thunder, Lightning, Strike for the first time felt like snorting pixie stix and speed. Or at least how imagine snorting such a combination would make me feel: like a preschooler jacked up on a high-fructose corn syrup binge.
The record pushed a kitchen sink approach to giddy stratospheres. 60s girl groups, Saturday morning cartoons, Sonic Youth, “The A-Team”, blaxplotation soundtracks, old school hip-hop – nothing was beyond the purview of mastermind Ian Parton. And, in turn, he made that shit snap, crackle, and pop.
Parton’s been chasing that high ever since. Unfortunately, his pursuits just haven’t sparkled the same way. The English band’s sophomore effort, 2007’s Proof of Youth, was “Charlie Angels: Full Throttle” to Thunder, Lightning, Strike’s original remake: more of the same, only gratuitously bigger, and a little empty on the inside. While this year’s Rolling Blackouts suffers some of the same missteps – do we really need “T.O.R.N.A.D.O”, the band’s umpteenth attempt to recreate “The Power is On”? – a number of songs find Parton working with more traditional pop structures for the first time, with big hooks high in the mix and a bright sheen that fit the band quite well (see: “Buy Nothing Day”, “Ready to Go Steady”, “Secretary Song”).
But Rolling Blackouts barely sent a ripple across the web this winter, and I didn’t hear a whole lot of buzz leading up to the band’s show on Wednesday night. If the Internet hasn’t shrugged off the Go! Team completely, it certainly isn’t reciprocating the band’s reckless enthusiasm anymore. In fact, most people I spoke with before the 9:30 Club performance were keener to see opener DOM .
In contrast to its tourmates, DOM’s titular frontman has put on a hype clinic in the past year. Hastily recorded EP released on cassette and vinyl? Check. Trash-talking interviews? Check. Fuck-all demeanor? Check. Is it any wonder the dude shared a bill with Wavves last fall?
As with Nathan Williams, the cult of personality distracts from the fact that DOM makes fairly conventional rock. This is more apparent live, where its songs are stripped of the Sun Bronzed Greek God EP’s lo-fi warmth and the swirls of synths that initially got the band lumped in among chillwave acts.
The four-piece slightly refashioned the material as loose and riff-y power pop, not all that different from that of classicists Free Energy, albeit with a hint of the creepy schmaltz Ariel Pink has in spades.
While his bandmates were professionally nondescript, Dom peacocked with a pink guitar strapped over his tie-dyed Mickey Mouse t-shirt. Long red hair covered his face for most all of the performance, making any final assessment of his likeness to Shaun White inconclusive at best. He introduced songs as “this next joint,” and punctuated one preface with a belch. And it’s a credit to his tossed-off charm that all of this came off endearingly.
Also to his credit, Dom understands to keep things short and sweet. The set covered a brief nine songs, nearly each one clocking in under three minutes. Despite their brevity, the songs made their way quickly to anthemic choruses, particularly on closer “Living in America”, and a huge cover of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette”.
The 9:30 Club gradually filled up to about two-thirds capacity before the Go! Team made it’s trademark entrance: members jogged to their instruments and without notice launched into an aural assault, in this case the air-raid assault of “T.O.R.N.A.D.O”. The band followed with “Grip Like a Vice”, “Huddle Formation”, and “Voice Yr Choice”. This meant one thing: a whole lot of Ninja.
Ian Parton may be the creative force behind the Go! Team, but petit and energetic emcee Ninja is the de facto leader of the project’s live incarnation. She serves as both hype (wo)man and singer, recreating most of the school yard chants and soul samples Parton favors. She also raps, and does so not very well. You take the good with the bad, I suppose: she’s a human spark plug, but there’s a reason hype men are left off records, and I often find my enjoyment of a Go! Team song is inversely proportional to how much Ninja is rapping.
When the Go! Team last played 9:30 Club in 2007, not only was Ninja all over the Proof of Youth material – she dominates that album – but she was ad-libbing on top of the largely instrumental Thunder, Lightning, Strike tracks, which I would liken to someone baking you your favorite birthday cake and then crusting it with shards of glad just when you’re reaching for the cake knife. Fuck you, Ninja. I’ll never forgive you for that one.
Thankfully, after the initial run of songs, Ninja’s wordplay took a backseat to the band’s other voices, and used as a change of pace, she’s much easier to stomach. Furthermore, when she did pick up the mic, as on “Bottle Rocket” and “Back Like 8 Track”, she was mixed mercifully low. As with other members, her vocals are often more a matter of style than substance; just another brick in the band’s wall of sound.
The Go! Team worked overtime to erect that wall, changing responsibilities for drums and guitars and keyboards throughout the night. No live horns made an appearence, but Parton did take a seat on the drum stage to pick his banjo during “Yosemite Theme”, an uplifting instrumental that hews closely to the expansive campfire-on-a-cloudless-night wonderment of “Everyone’s a V.I.P. to Someone.” That stage elevated not one but two drum sets, which were employed for not much beyond synchronized percussion, I would assume to simulate the massive, Fridmann-esque drums Parton creates on record.
Or maybe two drummers just look cooler than one. The Go! Team is a crowd pleaser. Like Cut Copy, its performances seem tailor-made to win over festival audiences. Cut Copy pushes a rave, the Go! Team a block party. On this night, the band’s effort paid off. The crowd, which had seemed tentative early in the set, was moving by mid-set highlight “The Running Range”.
If there is a growing nonchalance surrounding the Go! Team, the band is meeting it refreshingly head-on.
Other peaks in the night – in addition to obvious juggernauts “Huddle Formation” and “The Power is On” – came from the aforementioned streamlined pop of Rolling Blackouts: “Ready to Go Steady”, “Secretary’s Song”, and “Buy Nothing Day”. The last missed the powerhouse vocals of Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, but compensated well enough with a sing-along from four members. All songs proved a little melody goes a long way.
These tracks may not be the stuff of pixie sticks and speed, but they point a promising way forward for the Go! Team.