Monday, March 9, 2009

Live: Ponytail + Cold Pumas, Peepholes, Line

When: 3/7
Where: Brighton, England

Since Ponytail lives only a few hours away from me, it makes perfect sense that I should first see them live in England, right? But I had to kick off my little foray across the Atlantic with something awesome, and Ponytail is exactly that. But first, the opening bands...

Line - I guess that's what the first act was called, judging from the fliers. It appeared to just be a guy with a guitar, a microphone and a bunch of electronics - a formula that is far from new and one that has never (to my knowledge) succeeded. With only one person on stage, and especially with that person having to focus on the details of multiple instruments instead of the audience, it's simply not engaging. The music was good but nondescript and tellingly, most of the audience didn't even seem to be aware that anyone was playing.

Peepholes - As you might expect at a Ponytail show, the opening acts all involved a lot of noisy, enthusiastic experimentalism, a style that inevitably teeters on the edge of cliche. But of the three opening acts, Peepholes did the best at fighting off redundancy - they aren't really original, of course, but they do stand out from the pack, mostly by means of their compositional talent. While their songs are massively chaotic, they are packed with memorable hooks and it's obvious that they've all been painstakingly arranged. Not to mention painstakingly rehearsed - the duo churned out their primitive rhythms at the pace of an X-15 jet without once falling out of sync.

On stage, they have too much downtime, but when they play, it's thrilling to watch. Synth player/guitarist/vocalist/drummer Katia Barrett looks like she's being repeatedly electrocuted by the synthesizer, while drummer/vocalist/guitarist Nick Carlisle smacks his drums around with so much zeal you'd think they must have somehow insulted his mother. And though the music is fun, the performance makes clear that it's also genuinely emotive - the anger may be posturing, but the dark urgency is unsettlingly sincere. ::MySpace

Cold Pumas - As I said, high-speed noise rock is in constant peril of being cliched, and unfortunately, Cold Pumas haven't managed to avoid this pitfall. Their music would have been outstanding if this were 1978, but it's 2009, and at this point, it comes off as sadly superfluous. Unlike Peepholes, Cold Pumas didn't really produce any memorable riffs and moreover, they came off less expressive than the preceding act - there was something impersonal about their approach, as though the band is perhaps not ready to open themselves personally to each other and their audience. All in all, the three Pumas are good at their instruments and it definitely wasn't an unpleasant listen. It's just not worth getting too excited about. ::MySpace

Ponytail - Ponytail placed in my Top 20 Albums of 2008 list, but I hadn't heard them live until this weekend, when we both left the U.S. East Coast and headed to Brighton, England. (I assume this is because they found out I'd be there and decided to stalk me. Flattering, guys, but kinda creepy as well!)

What I admire about Ponytail is their fearless independence and willingness to completely embarrass themselves for the sake of art. They play their noise rock like they're wrestling a steer at the state rodeo. The tempos leave even the audience breathless, with two guitars careening over relentlessly hypersonic drumbeats. The vocals, in turn, are almost childlike shrieks and wails.

But despite the sonic assault, this isn't angry music, it's ecstatic. The band's intense energy seems to come from sheer joy, grabbing their songs by the horns and letting out a cowboy's yeehaw! All four members are non-stop smiles, and while their enthusiasm is surprisingly well-conveyed on their recordings, their live show goes far beyond. The band members jump, bend, stagger and bounce, with "singer" (ok, vocalist) Molly Siegel eventually losing patience and hopping a three-foot barrier into the audience. Few bands could match Ponytail's energy and stamina. Their show is captivating and definitely not an experience to be missed.

They play New York on April 25. Mark your calendars! ::MySpace

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