Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Live: Fucked Up and Jeff the Brotherhood.

When: 6/25
Where: 285 Kent

Sadly, I missed Iceage at the Fucked Up/Jeff show.  But I did catch Jeff the Brotherhood, Nashville 4realz brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall.  Jeff the Brotherhood recently released their second album, an unabashed (and entirely self-aware) celebration of rock'n'roll cliches.  Their riff-centric psychedelic punk is criminally catchy, with exaggerated weight, excessive effects and extreme rockstar posturing.

At 285 Kent, Jeff played a great selection songs from both albums and played them well.  But somehow, I feel like Jeff are less than they once were.  I don't want to be one of those resentful motherfuckers who talks about when such-and-such band used to be good, back before they were so popular.  And it's an easy trap to fall into - shows are more exciting when you're lucky enough to stumble on something brilliant before anyone else notices it.  It's impossible not to miss the intimacy of those tiny shows, with 15 people instead of 500.

But my excitement over Jeff isn't just losing luster out of nostalgia for ye good olde days.  There are a couple of other factors at play here.  One is simply that Jeff are a bit superficial.  Of course, that the genius and joy of Jeff - they make rock music fun again.  But like any fun music, it fades over time and you move on to the next catchy thing. Which isn't to say that Jeff's music is disposable.  They aren't some one-hit wonder whose albums will show up en masse in used music shops in a year, the original owners completely forgetting the existence of the records the minute they walk out the door.  No.  I think people will keep Jeff's LPs and will throw them on from time to time and love them every time.  But few people will return to the LPs with the sort of urgency that draws people back to the greatest of albums.  That sort of emotional urgency, after all, would be a total buzzkill and ruin everything Jeff are trying to do.  So it's fine.  But it is the sort of infatuation that, despite what we might have thought in the heat of the moment, is far more about the thrill of discovery than it is about the potential for enduring, life-altering love.

Still, this doesn't fully explain my discontent. Yes, the sun has set on my initial crush, but the shows still seem emptier than they should.  And this is why: Jeff used to be showmen.  It's not that they aren't now, but they don't have the FLAIR they used to.  After all, the first time I saw Jeff in a "big" (400+) venue, Jake stood atop a huge amp giving a five minute guitar intro, visible in flickers from Jamin's barebulb flashlight.  Jeff still know how to build suspense and how to please a crowd, but they've scaled it back.  Note: I am absolutely NOT advocating for bands to do five minute guitar intros standing atop their amps.  But Jeff are different - what they do works because of their shameless willingness to revel in rock'n'roll stereotypes like a dog rolling around in dead fish. Like Queen or the Mars Volta, they are the kind of band you should be thankful exist and should be just as thankful only exist once (but not quite as extreme because if you heard another band that sounded like Jeff, it would just sound lame, not mortifying or terminally obnoxious).

So, Messrs. Orrall, what gives?  Why no grandstanding?  Why no crazy lighting?  If you're gonna own that shit, own it.  Otherwise, turn off the flange pedal.  And please, don't turn off your flange pedal!  You have a mission to complete and we're so close!  Granted, no one who hadn't seen the band back when would know any air had gone out of the balloon - but Jake and Jamin, you and I happen to know you can do even better.

And then, Fucked Up, billed as "secret guest."  What can I write about Fucked Up that I have not already?  Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham went running all the way through the crowd and out the door at one point - if I had to guess, I'd guess he was going to give hugs to the folks working the door.  It was the first Fucked Up show where I heard bassist Sandy "Mustard Gas" Miranda step up to the mic, but I'm guessing it won't be the last, since extensive female vocals were needed on Fucked Up's recent rock-opera LP.  She was hard to hear but otherwise excellent.  There was good pit going too, if you like getting thrown around and drenched in other people's sweat - and if you don't like that, why are you in the pit?  It goes without saying that the band was impeccable.

Where Jeff are a fleeting infatuation, Fucked Up are more of long-term relationship material.  Theirs are the albums fans will return to with emotional urgency.  They are the heralds of a new day of hXc punk rawk, the ragged band exploring new frontiers most of us never would have thought existed.  Both bands are important and both have relevant - and rare - missions.  Having indulgent, shameless, rock'n'roll fun is underrated and underdone and we need Jeff to remind us of that.  But Fucked Up, with their boundless passion, sincerity and sense of purpose, will make the more lasting mark.

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