There are only so many times that the singer for the Smith Westerns moves his hair out of his face during the course of their set, but when he does, you can see he's singing intently, with his eyes closed and his baby face all scrunched up, momentarily diverting his waifish John Lennon slur to punch the words "Be. My. Girl" on a song called none other than "Be My Girl." To be honest, I expected less effort. Or at least more drinks on stage. Or at least a drink on stage. Aren't these the kids whose drunken antics might have had something to do with getting the Market Hotel shut down, who urinated in trashcans at Music Hall of Williamsburg, and who are, like, 17-years-old?
But the Smith Westerns, as their new album Dye It Blonde suggests, are not the band they once were — the one who seemed lucky to have such natural knack for melody but were content working it into under-cooked pop songs. As far as last night is concerned, they've undergone a lifetime's worth of maturation at warped speed, springing from loose cannon smart alecks to airtight band with the upmost respect for their musical ancestors in ELO, T.Rex and druggy-day Beatles. The real kicker, though, is how they manage to hang onto that touch of earnestness that comes with being, for all intents and purposes, still quite young, while breezing through the set with a certain casual effortlessness that just doesn't seem fair to bands who have been going at it for so much longer than they have.
They play the type of music that inspires someone in the crowd to hold up a lighter — as in an actual cigarette lighter, not a cell phone — at a few particularly swelling points throughout the night. And it makes complete sense that the couple behind me would slow dance like they're at prom during the swaying part of "All Die Young," or at least until the tempo picks up about three-quarters of the way through, and the band turns it into less of a Righteous Brothers throwback/more of a 60s pop surge. Then they just start dancing like they're drunk, which is the reaction I think the Smith Westerns still probably prefer.
Smith Westerns play again this Saturday at Knitting Factory. Tickets are sold out, but it's at least worth a few Craigslist scans to see if you can find one.