Someone had to go to Studio B, and since I have absolutely no idea how to get there, I sent Jeff. Thanks, Jeff!
Sunset Rubdown — Studio B
Spencer Krug generates white-hot super fan intensity, the sort where if you look closely you can see a three-foot circle at the front of his shows, where every word of a just-released album is faithfully mouthed and every oblique sentiment is met with a crazed fist pump. Which is a little weird, really. He’s one of the most obtuse lyricists around, and in his songs it’s often difficult to tell who or what he’s referring to. I mean, it’s even gotten to the point that the songs themselves joke about it. After the puzzling “It’s the taming of the hands that came back to life, as I synchronize swam on the ice in 03,” comes the self-deflating, “oh, but enough about me.” Which of course plays out as this huge arena rock moment in concert, somehow. There’s no decoder ring provided for these intensely personal statements, but we all just take it on faith that whatever it is, he means it, man. With a set made predominantly of his latest, and probably most insular record Dragonslayer, there was a lot to take on faith (except the line about “the critics and their disappointed mothers,” that one is laser-precise).
The performance was one of fits and starts, spurred by a squirrelly sound guy who seemed to think that the vocals were way worse than anyone else in the room, who convinced Krug that no one could hear a word he was singing, which you know, they could. But the loss of smoothness resulted in an even higher level of audience to performer togetherness. We all wanted Krug to shake off his neurotic sound worries, and every time a flash of concern would cross his expressive round face, the crowd erupted like a supportive dads cheering a little league game. With more fist pumping, probably (depending on the league).
Sisters — Public Assembly
Sisters are a couple of Brooklyn boys, and thus not likely sisters at all. Both drummer and guitarist had floppy hair, so maybe that’s a genetic trait they can rally around. For two dudes on a stage, they manage an admirably loud, punch in the stomach quality. Lots of strong, bashing climaxes, though not an abundance of instantly memorable choruses. Often kids get really excited about making a big punk racket and lose site of the fact that, you know, bands like the Buzzcocks were about as relentlessly melodic and hook-obsessed as you can get. But Sisters did have some weight behind them, they went for big moments. Maybe they should, like, smoke some dope, listen to some ABBA records, and then try to coat those unafraid instrumental swells with some equally shameless vocal honey.
Screaming Females — Public Assembly
New Jersey’s Screaming Females contain exactly one hollerin’ lady, though Marissa Padernoster could likely take down a couple in a contest, if she had to. On the Sleater-Kinney resemblance front, her haircut was a Carrie Brownstein, while her voice’s tendency to lift toward bluesy wail sits more comfortably in the Corin Tucker column. Her pipes have a deceptively varied use, laying low with some rhythmic grunts for a bit before absolutely rocketing off to hit a note that’ll force a “wow “ from even tired, jaded lips. The band’s playing was mercurial too, hard to pin down with any single descriptor. It’s all guitar rock, loosely, but the tones veered from ballsy Thin Lizzy riffs to tightly knotted Gang of Four scrapes, and even a fleeting dip into P.i.L. death disco. To the extent that they have a specific identity, it’s given to them by Padernoster’s manic presence. She’s got a self-possessed heat when singing or playing guitar, but between songs she seemed weirdly nervous and itchy, her speaking voice kind of a shocking squeak after you’ve heard her belt it out. That discomfort made them seem sort of ineffably antisocial, like folk who could only feel at ease in a completely different locale. I personally consider jean shorts to be anti-society, but the goony bassist had many fellow cut-off travelers in the room, so that wasn’t the problem.
The Beets — Bruar Falls
Bands toiling in the Brooklyn wilderness, trying to invent a revolutionary synth tone or master some long-rumored time signature must just slap their foreheads in dismay when The Beets roll through. It’s all so simple, man. Three dudes singing blown out melodies, strumming and thwacking away. That’s it. These exact songs could have been written anytime in the last 40 years, slipped on to a mammoth Rhino box set of lost garage classics to be sporadically discovered. If the band has a unique feature (other than their endlessly endearing cartoon character personas) it’s that I’ve never heard such energetic songs seem so weirdly slow and lazy. I don’t mean lazy to connote a lack of effort, at all, it’s just the most apt word for the sun-drunk, laying in the tall grass, not even thinking about moving vibe that the band’s songs connote. And yet there they are, bashing and hollering away, full of energy. It’s kind of a mystery how that action can generate the lackadaisical feeling, though I guess it’s likely in how they draw out their words in harmony over the music. At one point they were playing the hazy “Happy But on My Way” with such vigor that I looked up to see Juan’s polo shirt had been completely vaporized. Luckily his Risky Business shades remained unharmed.