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all photos: Nathan Jurgenson
all words: Buddy Boy

Hearing a record by NYC garage rockers The Beets through the Marx Café’s speaker system on a first Friday of the month isn’t so uncommon. But seeing the band show up in person to play a special live show and then take to the turntables themselves afterwards—wtf?!!
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Needless to say, last Friday’s We Fought the Big One at the Marx was a little unusual. The long-running post-punk/DIY indie rock dj party has presented live shows before at the Velvet Lounge (including DC’s first Veronica Falls show, Beach Fossils, and Screen Vinyl Image), but this marked the first occasion We Fought the Big One djs Brandon Grover and Rick Taylor hosted a live performance at their monthly Marx event itself.

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It probably goes without saying, but the Marx doesn’t really lend itself to live shows, either from the standpoint of the performer in question (there’s not a lot of space), or from the audience’s (the venue divides its bar and dining areas, which means visibility may be difficult depending on where you are).
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That being said, The Beets have a reputation for embracing non-traditional spaces, and the fact that there are just three musicians in the band (including a minimalist drum-kit) meant pulling off the show wasn’t so far-fetched.
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It should be said that the collective heart of the at-capacity crowd went out to The Beets that night. Even before the three-piece band began to play, word quickly spread that someone had broken into their van earlier that morning in Philadelphia, the first stop of the tour. Among the valuables stolen were a wallet, a bass guitar and a large box of records the band had specifically brought with them to dj later that night.
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The break-in put a damper on a tour that had otherwise looked to be a promising new chapter for the band. Longtime Beets co-founder/principal songwriter Juan Wauters, bassist Jose Garcia and new drummer Chie Mori had only just released their third album (and first for Sub Pop subsidiary label Hardly Art), “Let the Poison Out,” the previous week.
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Prior to Friday’s show, the album had already generated a flurry of positive notices, including a 7.7 rating on Pitchfork, a four star review from Paste and praise from The Village Voice (and for good reason—it’s not only the band’s best batch of songs to date, it’s also their best sounding record thanks to the terrific production work of Gary Olson of The Ladybug Transitor, who also produced the most recent Crystal Stilts album).
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In addition to a bass guitar, the band needed three microphones and mic stands (each of the three Beets do vocals), a power strip and extension cord to play the show. The good news is that the three members of local band Silo Halo got wind of The Beets’ situation, and before you could say “Spit on the Face of People Who Don’t Want to Be Cool,” Queens’ finest had everything it needed, including a red Fender Jag bass for Garcia. The act of kindness and generosity on behalf of Silo Halo speaks volumes about the ethos at the core of DC’s DIY music community.
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It was well after midnight by the time the tables in front of one of the Marx Café’s large windows were moved out and the band set up to start playing. More than a little fatigued from having to deal with all the issues surrounding the morning’s break-in, the band nonetheless got into the spirit of the evening as they strummed their way through several highlights from each of their three albums.

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What distinguishes The Beets from their DIY garage contemporaries quickly became apparent. Just about every song in the band’s catalog centers around some fairly straight-forward but catchy chord patterns that stick in your ear like Crazy Glue and a group sing-a-long led by Wauters. Rarely does the band kick into high gear ala the frequently uptempo garage rock of Thee Oh Sees, Fresh & Onlys or Sic Alps. And unlike another quadrant of the contemporary DIY garage scene, The Beets have zero interest in resuscitating the ghost of C86 (just a hunch: the band members are more likely to think of C86 as a map code than a specific musical era).

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The sheer shambolic nature of the band’s guitar clang can easily disguise Wauters’ penchant for tackling weighty subjects with tongue-in-cheek charm. During one of the songs The Beets played (“Doing As I Do”), Wauters diffused the seriousness of mortality when he sang, “Don’t be afraid; you will not die, and if you die, whatever.” While one could read that as black-humored fatalism, it could just as easily be interpreted as the band saying, “Hey, try not to stress about things in life so much—it’s not worth worrying about things you can’t control.” It’s no wonder the band seemed to take the break-in incident in stride.

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The band’s idiosyncratic blend of easy, bop-your-head tempos, and catchy melodies played with a fair amount of…shall I say looseness…was well-received. Of course, if Wauters’ guitar strums and Mori’s pounding drums occasionally fell out of alignment, the audience didn’t seem to mind. They seemed genuinely appreciative the band was willing to play such a non-traditional show, and the fact that the band was there to tough it out following the break-in meant people were rooting for them.

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In fact, when Wauters told the crowd that the show was over after the band had played for about 30 minutes, the audience wouldn’t have it. Amid much cheering and applause, the band resumed playing with gusto and the audience lapped up a few more shambolic sing-a-longs.

Following the show, the band made its way back to the dj booth and took turns picking out records to dj. Since the band’s records were stolen, The Beets had to select songs from the records and cds the We Fought the Big One djs brought with them, but with so much to choose from, this was not a problem.
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Wauters’ selections included “Repetition” by The Fall, “Queen Bitch” by David Bowie, “Down on the Street” by The Stooges and a track from 60s French garage punk Jacques Dutronc. Garcia picked “Making Plans for Nigel” by XTC, “Brighton Beach” by NYC garage-pop peers The Beachniks, “Danny Boy” by The Ramones, and the Syd Barrett-Pink Floyd classic “Bike.” Mori preferred to bypass the djing altogether, but kept looking for records by the Television Personalities, to no avail unfortunately.

Based on the attendance and positive vibes (including some dancing in and around the dj booth itself), it wouldn’t be surprising if such an unusual event happens again at the Marx in the not-too-distant future.
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