Where: Death By Audio
I know this review is going to make me sound like a grumpy old man who got up on the wrong side of the bed last Friday. And you could argue that's entirely accurate. So be it.
When I came into Death By Audio, Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt was less than halfway through their set. This "band" was "playing" their "music" while dancing around in huge costumes in the audience. I'm not against music being fun or funny, but I think it should always have some artistic merit, something deeper, something personal, something meaningful. Instinctively, I feel the same way about shallow music that I imagine deeply religious people feel about cartoons mocking Jesus or Mohamed. Let me reiterate: there is plenty of fun, even funny music I like (I swear), but when the music is just a cheap vehicle for soulless cliches, I don't find myself feeling particularly amused.
Costumes are a cheap and obvious gimmick, no matter how elaborate. And though no doubt TPDR is eager to distract listeners from their build-yr-own-dance-tune songs (the musical equivalent of cookies you made in your Easy-Bake Oven), it's sad they couldn't find something a little more original to divert our attention. My Lame-O-Meter is officially broken.
Next up was French Miami and because of some various stuff, I was kind of in and out during their set. I know I had things to say about them, but I didn't write it down right away and I can't quite remember what my overall impression was. Their spazzy, punkish rock is very pop (maybe occasionally to a fault) but the band members have an impressive ability to occasionally play more than one instrument at once - usually guitar (tap on with the left hand) and keys (with the right hand). Some of the keyboard parts and melodies get a little annoying, but there are some hands-down beautiful guitar riffs and melodic hooks. It's not original, not at all, but it's spirited and well-done. [MySpace]
The real highlight of the night, of course, was DC's True Womanhood. Radiohead is the unmistakable reference point in describing this trio's sound. Thomas Redmond's wide-ranging, otherworldly vocals do sound like a carbon copy of Thom Yorke's. The comparison doesn't end there, however - the band's half-electro/half-live percussion features uncomfortably lurching breakbeats similar to Radiohead's post-OK Computer work. The combination of uneasy singing and frantic, unstable beats certainly puts the listener on edge - in a good way.
The meat of the band's sound comes from bass player Melissa Beattie. Since Redmond's guitar is often lost in experimental noise or drifting in a heavily-reverbed stratosphere, the bass carries the hooks, establishes the key and chords and drives the music forward rhythmically. True Womanhood sounds rich, but if it weren't for Beattie's exceptional playing, it would be unlistenably thin.
True Womanhood (photo from myspace.com)
Drummer Noam Elsner is responsible for much of the music's intrigue as well as its appeal. The jerky asymmetry of his aforementioned breakbeats sound dancey - but I dare you to try it. His unconventional kit included a junior-high-quality tympanum (aka kettle drum). At first, I thought that was a pretty stupid idea, given that it was a larger timp tuned down and played with wooden sticks - so it just sounded like a bad floor tom. However, after a while, I noticed Elsner placing a variety of cymbal/bell instruments on top of the drum and playing them. The drum gave them a deep resonance and while I'm not sure it's worth hauling around a 100 lb instrument, I've got to admit it's cool.
The band wants for some originality, but their songs are powerful and memorable and their stage presence intense and captivating. Look for big things from these guys. [MySpace]
Oh, I almost forgot my other mean old man rant. There were a bunch of emergency blankets (you know, those really shiny ones) around the venue, which I guess probably had something to do with TPDR's set. During True Womanhood, some people thought it was fun to play with them, which maybe it was except they made what seemed to me to be a really loud crinkling noise that really distracted from the music. Do what you want during sets, but try to keep it quiet, please. Some of us old folks are hard of hearing and can't make out the band so well anyway!!!