Friday, February 19, 2010

Live: Don Giovanni showcase

I'm happy to say I was right about the Don Giovanni showcase. It was a great punk show, the kind you remember when you’re telling your kids about your wild days in the New York music scene when you’re trying to convince them you were once young and hip too. Much to everyone’s surprise, I think, the show sold out very early on. I can’t tell you how nice it was to see Bowery packed with true underground punk types, most young and all truly there for the music and the community. Well, almost all – there was a mysterious contingent of bimbos around who took off pretty early. Which is fine, I’m glad they’re checking out such good music, I just don’t really understand how they ended up there. But, the more, the merrier!

The Groucho Marxists kicked it off with their hard-edged pop punk. They aren't original and I wouldn't call them bold, but they are true to their punk heritage and could easily be alt/pop-punk radio material, though a damn sight better than most of what makes it on the air. Their live show matched - nothing revolutionary, but certainly energetic. They're a bit more outward looking than most punk bands, just a little more audience-focused rockstar mindset. They're definitely still down-to-earth and having fun, though, and that’s what matters. [myspace]

Black Wine were a surprise favorite and while it’s hard to pick highlights from such a thoroughly amazing line-up, this would have to be one. It’s rare to see a band have so many things so right. Though the parts were fairly simple, they were just right for the songs and all three members played their instruments with comfort and intuition. Drummer Miranda Taylor particularly stood out, but everyone was right on. They also clearly have a knack for songwriting. Again, the arrangements and compositions weren’t too elaborate, but they were exactly right. The only real problem was when the band slid towards emo - I’m not one of those people who hates all things emo, but none of the band members had the singing ability to pull of the slower, more exposed melodies. Off-key singing is a fine aesthetic but it doesn’t work in all contexts and the band’s slower songs weren’t really doing it for me. Aside from that, though, this band shows a rare talent and I will certainly be keeping an eye on them from now on. [myspace]

The Measure played next and I have to say, they were the least memorable band of the night. Of course, that’s not too grave an insult with a line-up like that. They were energetic, with lovable pop punk tunes and creative arrangements. Drummer Mikey Yannich drove their music full-speed ahead, while Lauren Measure and Fid shared guitar and vocal duties with great male-female balance (she leading). You’d have to mosh pretty hard to keep up. [myspace]

Though this was certainly a punk show, it had two rock bands right in the middle. The first of them, Jeff the Brotherhood, positively killed. Guitarist Jake Orrall started the show with the lights out, standing atop his guitar cabinet. While gave the set a grand five-minute guitar solo intro, his brother and drummer Jamin illuminated the scene with a bare-bulb camping light. Jake leapt down and continued to solo while the audience’s anticipation built. When Jamin finally took his seat at the drums, everyone in the room was wrapped around the band’s little finger. They plowed through much of their recent debut, more or less in order, one great tune after another. Jake seems to enjoy playing the mighty rock god, but it’s got a hint of tongue-and-cheek. Only a hint though, because like it or not, he is a rock god. He’s king of the stage and master of the riff and everyone who was in that audience knows it. [myspace]

Luckily for everyone, one of the few acts that can follow Jeff the Brotherhood did - Screaming Females. Screaming Females are the greatest rock band on earth, and at Bowery, they were on fire. Marissa Paternoster is a bonafide guitar hero and an unforgettable singer/screamer to boot. She and her bandmates are a great songwriting team. Although the guitar riffs make take the spotlight, Mike Abbate’s rolling bass lines are just as good and he played them well, despite being already a bit worn out from being in the center of the moshpit during Jeff the Brotherhood’s set. But this band has got as much stamina as they have talent. Which is just one more thing that makes them the greatest. [myspace]

I never got to see Jawbreaker live, but they one of my all-time favorite bands and seeing Forgetters was as amazing an experience as you’d expect seeing one of your heroes for the first time would be. Blake Schwarzenbach is the same as ever, with the same sort of songwriting, the same jumpy guitar, the same lamentable lyrics and low, mumbly, major-key melodies. Bassist Caroline Paquita is different from Jawbreaker’s Chris Bauermeister - Bauermeister played with poppy jumps, while Paquita lays down a more solid foundation. And drummer Kevin Mahon also has his own distinct style, playing with more levity and energy but less rhythmic complexity than Jawbreaker drummer Adam Pfahler. The result is a post-grunge pop punk band with strong, steady songs but without the magical chemistry you usually find in a young musician’s breakout band.

Bringing the night to a close, everyone’s darlings Shellshag celebrated the release of their album. With seven bands, the night ran pretty late and most of the audience had cleared out by time they played. The crowd peaked for Jeff the Brotherhood and Screaming Females, but Shellshag are a cult act. I wouldn’t say there’s a limit on how large that cult could grow, but they don’t have the same mass appeal of some of the bands with whom they shared the Bowery stage.

Large or small, Shellshag’s fan base are intensely loyal and really the best of the bunch. Those left moshing to the duo at the front of Bowery at 1 AM were the true punks, and a great group of kids they were. And Shell and Shag are themselves a wild pair. Facing one another with their Y-shaped mic stand between them, they hollered and twisted to their f-u songs. At the band’s best, Shell’s bare-bones guitar and slurred baritone vocals dominate the band’s sound while Ms. Shag’s dry bells and primal pounding drop the bottom out of the whole thing. It’s boisterous, untamed and charmingly sardonic. No one has more fun on stage that these two. [myspace]

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