Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Live: Tyvek, Woods, Nymphets

When: 4/1
Where: Death By Audio

When I walked into Death By Audio last Wednesday, the Nymphets were already on stage - just a girl on drums and a guy on guitar, both yelling their heads off. Their songs were short and their lyrics simple and to the point (for example, the repeated line "I don't wanna live on Earth anymore"). They aren't the first band of their kind, but they seem to have a genuine grasp on punk minimalism, and how that means everyone can have a lot of fun and make noise. Thumbs up. [MySpace]

Apparently, there was another band after them called Changing Holes, and I must have been there when they played, but I have no memory of it whatsoever. Which doesn't speak well to them.

Third in line was Woods, my latest obsession. They play simple, lo-fi pop, but not in the distortion-and-feedback sense of lo-fi. Their clean guitars and vocals aren't buried under anything heavy, but rather (as I said before) it's as if they are under water - the songs are distorted not in a fuzzbox way, but in the way water distorts the appearance of things beneath it. There is an element of mysterious, otherworldly beauty in the sound.

Though often described as “folk,” Woods are best classified as pop, with uptempo songs and sticky-sweet melodies. They sound a lot like the Byrds, or even the Hollies, but turned inside out and cooked into some Jell-O.

As performers, the band was pretty average, kicking out some hot guitar solos and some satisfying noise but not really doing anything out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, the most interesting part of the performance took place out of sight of most of the audience, myself included. The band's fourth member was crouching on the floor with what appeared to be a vocoder (or talk box or something of that nature) and a bunch of electronics.

Whatever he was doing, it helps explain the eerie, unidentifiable quality of the recorded music. (In case you don't know, vocoders and talk boxes use the voice and the movement of the mouth respectively to shape sounds, emitting ‘half human, half machine’ sort of tones.) Whatever this device was, he had it strapped over his mouth, a disturbing gesture. In the audience, all you know is there's somebody kneeling on the stage with something reminiscent of a gas mask or an old medical device obscuring half his face. Gimmicky? Maybe, but it's also effectively intriguing, not to mention creepy as hell.

While having melodies that will be stuck in your head for weeks, prettied up even further with subtle vocal harmonies, Woods sound weird in a way I can't quite identify. It's not just the quirky falsetto of the vocals (a trick used by plenty more conventional bands like Dirty On Purpose), there's just something different about this band. Something too subtle to be revolutionary, but distinctive enough to make this one of the most outstanding and original bands of our time. [MySpace]

Closing out the night came the much-hyped Tyvek, a Michigan-based punk outfit that kicks quite a lot of ass. The band stays true to the fundamental American punk tenant of playing loud and playing fast. There's some quirk in their music, but it's not that the music has been overthought, it's just that these kids have as much rage as the Sex Pistols, but they aren't leather-sporting punks from the London slums, they're awkward Midwesterners.

When I say rage, though, I don't mean it's sheer hardcore-thrashy-screaming anger - Tyvek is FUN. The new(ish) bassist Shelley Salant is a particularly interesting presence on stage - she looks detached, which just makes it all the more striking when she shreds her lungs yelling back-up vocals. Drummer Matt Ziolkowski plays standing up like Mo Tucker, only when he does it, he pogos like a maniac. And frontman Kevin Boyer, despite his bookish looks, rips the show to shreds and lights it on fire with his aggressive performance.

The music is solid. Like the first act of the night, it's nothing completely new, but Tyvek definitely knows the wild recipe of anger and fun that makes good punk good (similar to the combination of anger and fun of yelling "fuck you" at your high school principal the day after graduation). Their music is certainly not minimalist - it even includes keyboards, but it's still raw and has a very sharp edge. [MySpace]

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