Friday, June 10, 2011

Live: Pterodactyl, Screens, Keepaway

When: 5/27
Where: Death By Audio

Another shamefully overdue review, but a couple of weeks ago, I caught Screens and Pterodactyl at Death By Audio.  I missed Zulus, who played first, but I did catch the second opener, Keepaway.

Keepaway is one of those bands that's so bad it transfixes you.  I couldn't look away.  If you are ever making a funny movie and you need a band to parody the worst side of parochial pop, Keepaway are the guys you want.  When the band started with their cheesy, tacky, unartful electronica, all over the worst canned beats imaginable, it was jawdropping.  "Jasper" theorized that they were the guys who got rejected by the Animal Collective cover band.  My own assessment was similar, but rather more harsh.

Unfortunately, as the set went on, the music got slightly better, which ruined the band's only appeal - the sheer awesomeness of how terrible it was.  If they'd managed to stay godawful the whole time, they'd be more worthy of note, but as their music reached regularly-crappy levels, they became less and less interesting.

However, one part never ceased to horrify - the lyrics.  It was like poetry by a 13-year-old.  A melodramatic and not very bright 13-year-old.  I cannot get over how bad these lyrics were.  It was PAINFUL to listen to.  Of course, it was made more painful by the nearly tone-deaf "singer."  You could tell there were supposed to be melodies, but his attempts at executing them were grating.

If the band didn't seem to take themselves seriously, I might be interested in them as a sort of "meta" critique.  But everything about how they conducted themselves indicated that they actually think this music is good.  They didn't even seem to be having that much fun, they just did a generic indie rock performance, head nodding to the rhythms, their "drummer" randomly tapping along to the programed rhythms like a talentless four-year-old.  The whole thing was self-indulgent, boring and embarrassing.  Please stop.  ["jam session" video]

Screens played next.  There was a time I was super excited about Screens and thought they were the second coming but I've been a bit disappointed with the band.  The problem with them is that they are tantalizingly close to something awesome, but they just keep missing the mark.  Their largely synth-driven music is fresh and smart, sheets of noise and danceable beats pasted together like a carefully crafted collage.  Their music stutters and veers but never at random - everything that's placed together in a song belongs together.

However, there are some very poor decisions in the mix.  Most glaringly, the vocals are laden with effects.  Most songs feature tremendous delay on the vocals, so every shout or scream is repeated in full several times after it's uttered.  Added to that is a gratuitous amount of reverb and often distortion.  There's absolutely no substance to the vocals themselves - they're entirely effects.  The band would be better off without vocals at all.  But better than that, even would be if the band could learn to use vocals as effectively as they use the other elements of their music.

The effects on the vocals thing would be silly regardless, especially given current trends towards doing this, it also has the effect of making the band sound generic.  The frontman is enthusiastic, but he seems a little disconnected from the band as well, both because he's sonically superfluous and because he doesn't seem to engage them or vice versa.  If the band learns how to incorporate its members with the same fluidity as they incorporate the components of their songs, they'll be genius.  But as it stands, they're frustrating.

I've seen Pterodactyl a bazillion times and reviewed them almost as many times.  The last two, they were a quartet, but at this show, they were back down to their core trio and it was the best set of theirs I've seen in a long time.  Perhaps it was the comfort of being a trio and on something close to home turf.  Their frenetic noise-rock folded more smoothly into their new, slower, syncopated sound.  Matt Marlin really is an outstanding drummer and really holds the reigns - with a flick of his wrist, he can quickly change a song from breakneck punk to relaxed calypso to deep blues and back.

There's not much else I can say without repeating my other reviews.  The band is exceptionally tight and their sound is bold, original and buoyant, bubbling with genuine joy.  So, basically, they still got it. [old ptero video]

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