I arrived moments after Hunters finished playing, to my horror. I listened to their tracks on their bandcamp page, and hoped to catch at least one song live, but it was not to be. You can hear why they’d be on this tour – like an earlier version of where the Kills once dwelled, but still uniquely themselves.
Jeff the Brotherhood took the stage soon thereafter. I was surprised to see it was a two-man band. In fact, I was surprised about…everything about them. I’d never heard them, nor heard of them, before seeing someone in a coffee shop wearing their tour shirt that very morning. Timing.
JtB’s music snuck up on me, fast. It has an urgency to it that reminded me of the pub rock bands of the mid-70s, just before punk hit England. Fast, furious songs of near-metal, played with a drum kit and a guitar by two brothers (Jake and Jamin) from Nashville, enjoyable for so un-fussily being exactly what it is. Just when I was getting used to what I was hearing – the kind of neo-grunge I imagine the Joy Formidable enjoying – they changed everything up. The fifth song in the set went all new-wave/Television/Replacements, with no warning.
Now, I know they’ve been around for 11 years, but damn, they have the formula down – it sounds like they’re making all this up, without pretension – mindful of the past without aping it. Fantastic stuff. Another new wave-ish track follows, and it’s back to the metal, more “Ace of Spades”-ish stuff, before they slow it down. The drummer comes out from behind the kit, fiddles with some lights, the singer’s voice is cast in sharp relief, but sounds a tad whiny, before the song kicks in and gets swampy, and really, really, really long (just like this sentence). Thud. Bad ending to a great set.
Inevitably, the between-set music is Nirvana, then Fugazi. Before JtB, it was Birthday Party. I love whoever’s doing the between-set music at the 930 Club. I want that job.
And thence to the Kills. The lights go dark, and the massively oversold crowd goes absolutely hog-wild. Alison traipses out with her dyed-pink hair and…wait a fucking second. Oh, shit – I just realized. Right before JtB went on, a girl with dyed pink hair came over to the bar to get a look at some numbered flexis she had evidently just gotten – oh, for fuck’s sake. I used the light on my iPhone to help Alison out of the Kills get a good look at the JtB “Something in the Way” flexi that the band had undoubtedly just given her – all while blithely unawares. FUCK! I should really stay on my toes.
So, I’m struck as I type this review, and, as prep, as I am reading Katie G’s excellent review of the Kills from April, that there was not a lot difference between the sets. Same leopard backdrop and incredibly similar setlists. I had the same complaint as Katie – they completely ignored all of my favorite tracks (I know, boo hoo) and, aside from the song “No Wow,” completely dissed the second album. Where’s “The Good Ones”? “Love Is a Deserter”? Ah well. Minor complaints.
So, yes, they start off with the lovely cheap drum machine of “No Wow,” before being joined by two leather jacket-clad boys on twin floor toms for “Future Starts Slow.” Alison grabs a guitar to join Jamie for “Heart Is Beating Like a Drum,” and they go industrial for throwback “Kissy Kissy.” Like their earlier music, it’s slow, but urgent, evenly paced, but with no release – all foreplay, no orgasm. I won’t soon forget seeing them at Coachella, right after No Wow came out. Such aggression, such madness. That was release.
The phone bleeps of “U.R.A. Fever” provides the first real release of the night, Jamie and Alison kicking the vocals back and forth and pushing the energy of the song to…well, fever pitch. “DNA” is next, complete with two female backup singers, but the energy ebbs a bit. “Satellite” follows with a stuttering drum machine intro that flatters to deceive. It sounds like inauthentic white kid reggae – lazy, naff, half-written shit – and an odd failure in an otherwise good set. “Last Day of Magic” is more to my taste, with a rhythm section that calls New Order’s “Crystal” to mind – in a good way.
Now Alison throws an odd curveball, launching into Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” – “hello, heartbreak/lady-boner!” as Rebekah Sasek said – which they covered for the Black Balloon EP a few years back. She’s definitely playing tonight with a low-key charisma – none of the floor-humping, speaker tumbling urgency of earlier sets. Anyway, the cover is part of a one-two punch with “Baby Says,” filled with great dual vocals and a wonderful if derivative guitar riff (“Gimmie Shelter” isn’t the worst thing to rip off). “Nail in My Coffin” is a rip-roaring good time, and “Black Balloon” showcases Alison’s romantic side, before “Tape Song” piles on the percussion and Alison channels Karen O. “Cheap and Cheerful” follows, reminding me of how much Sleigh Bells learned their craft watching the Kills live.
“Pots and Pans” starts slow – a bit like an “Iron Man” pastiche, before petering out – this is more of a bside, and my disappointment at their avoidance of my favorite songs is palpable. They head off for a rest before their deserved encore – the crowd is going quite potty – and it’s “The Last Goodbye,” followed by a boisterous rendition of “Sour Cherry.” Jamie introduces “Fuck the People,” noting it’s a rare run out for one of their earliest songs, “a witty critique of democracy,” to boot. They motor their way straight into “Monkey 23” and off into the night.
So, beautiful, memorable, nothing less than watchable, but they’re going to need to revamp that setlist and consider throwing some urgency into the proceedings for me to see them again. They’re definitely mellowing, perhaps finding their voices, and finding that they’re just less strident than they used to be.
More snaps of THE KILLS:
More snaps of JEFF THE BROTHERHOOD: