Saturday, March 20, 2010

Concert review: Thee Starry Eyes, The Whips

Thee Starry Eyes, The Whips
Friday March 19, 2010 at Belvedere's
with Spencer, Paul, Chris L.

We had planned on seeing Margot & The Nuclear So and So's at the Brillobox but learned around 7 pm that it was sold out. I scanned the City Paper for music listings to find something else interesting happening nearby and found a show at Belvedere's Bar in Lawrenceville. I did some quick Googling to find info about the bands and, actually, had a tough time. The Whips at least had a MySpace page with some songs, several recorded live, from the sound of them. I liked the idea that their CD was named “Cooler than Jim Jarmusch” and wondered about how they came up with something like that. Also, they listed a theremin and electric viola among their instruments, which intrigued me. The rest of the search results were listings for past concerts. For Thee Starry Eyes, all I could find were similar past listings and a Post-Gazette article from December that was a 2009-local-music-year-in-review type thing and only mentioned that they played cover songs from the Nuggets collection at a show at Howler's in July. In fact, the number one hit upon searching “thee starry eyes” was the very City Paper listing that I had just read! (EDIT: this post is now the #3 hit. Weird.) Anyway, they sounded interesting enough to go see, and I had been meaning to check out the bars in Lawrenceville anyway. I called the venue to get more info (time and price) and the guy who answered couldn't even find any posters at the bar with the desired info and gave me the guess of “around 9 pm” and “can't be more than $8”. Good enough for me.

I met Paul and Chris at the bar a little before 9:30. The place was way more spacious than I expected, with a cozy bar area near the entrance (with a couple of comfy recliners in the corner, even) leading to a much larger hardwood-floored room with a stage way off on the other side, a tiny bar to the right and two billiards tables and a ping-pong table and a couple of pinball machines. Wow. They only had a few taps (including the Abita Turbodog, which I ordered) but the bottle selection looked pretty good, too (and cheap, given the quality). There was a board above the bar listing upcoming events, and it said that Wednesdays are “Punk Karaoke Nite” which sounds really . . . interesting. I may have to see that at least once. We watched some college basketball on the big screen there for a few minutes then wandered into the big room and settled down on a comfortable couch in front of a coffee table. (I'm still amazed by the layout and furniture of this place. I need to go there more often.)

Eventually, some people walked onstage and began tuning up. I guessed it was The Whips, seeing the violist, and shortly thereafter they just launched right into a song, and it sounded familiar but I think that's just because I had been listening to their songs on MySpace before leaving my apartment. After that, they tuned for another minute and then walked off without saying anything. Okay. Turns out that was just the sound check. They didn't get back onstage until much later, after Spencer arrived around 10:30. Their music was fine enough, but I came to realize that the familiarity I experienced with the first song might also be due to the fact that all of their songs are pretty much identical: strummy lead guitar, straightforward bass lines, some viola backing, a faint drum beat, and some yelpy and unintelligible (to me) vocals. There was another guitarist onstage, but I really couldn't even tell what he was contributing. The most interesting moments were when the singer played the theremin and either shook his arm or kicked out his leg to match the modulations of the sounds, and the viola solos. They played an instrumental song during the middle, and I think it was their best. The singer's voice was my least favorite part, and I also had trouble hearing the drummer, who didn't seem to be doing anything crazy anyway. They played for half an hour then took a break before playing more, and during the break we moved over to the “pool hall” side to the right of a see-thru divider hanging from the ceiling. I think they sounded noticeably better from over there, actually, since I could see/hear the drummer and the singer's voice was projected away from us. They also played an interesting rock and roll cover version of “Tainted Love”. Overall, I say “meh” but I can see that some people might like it. I'm glad there ended up being no cover charge for the show, too!

Spencer schooled us at pool. We played some 2 on 2 and he clearly dominated, eventually switching to left-handed to make it interesting. It made me realize I should play more often since it's a lot of fun and I was out of practice, too. While we were playing, Thee Starry Eyes took the stage and started to rock out. There was a bassist and guitarist and drummer onstage, with one guitarist hanging out on the floor near the stage and the singer roaming around the whole bar carrying a tambourine. Seriously. While singing he would bounce around near the stage, but during instrumental sections he would dance around the whole place shaking the tambourine and jumping up and down, sometimes handing it off to people in the audience and clapping his hands instead. We started off watching from the pool table area, and I had leaned my cue against the divider and during one of his manic dancing episodes he bounced into the hanging thing and knocked over the cue, for which he apologized between songs, to some laughter. We moved back over to the stage area soon thereafter to watch him go wild, and we each got to jam on the tambourine at some point. They played all cover versions of old 60s garage rock hits, and they had lots of fun doing it, apparently. The roaming guitarist (who I recognized from hanging around the WRCT station way back when) chain smoked most of the time and the singer did his aforementioned bouncing and the drummer played loud and proud with lots of cymbals. They did a version of The Standell's “Dirty Water" but swapped “Pittsburgh” for “Boston” in the lyrics. Hah. And they closed their set around 1:45 am with a rousing rendition of The 13th Floor Elevators' classic single “You're Gonna Miss Me” substituting tambourine for the jug. Between songs the singer asked if anyone had any jokes, and I went up and told my favorite pirate joke, a version of which you can find at the bottom of this page. All told, their set was tons of fun and way more enjoyable, so I didn't mind the late-night finish. I'd be glad to see them again live.

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