Pepper Rabbit, We Are The Dead
Saturday July 10, 2010 at the Brillobox
I won two free tickets to this show from Opus One by entering one of their weekly giveaway contests. Typically I've heard of one or two of the three featured bands that week and I enter those, and sometimes I don't know any of them and enter one based on the description just to see what happens. This show fell into the latter category, and I'm glad it worked out for me (although by the looks of the crowd, not many people entered this particular contest; more on that later).
Leigh and I showed up a few minutes after 10. I had spent some time at her apartment before dinner (scrumptious homemade pizza with mushrooms, red peppers, onions and feta and goat cheese) scoping out the opening bands (and the headliner, for that matter). Candy Claws sounded really interesting, and We Are The Dead had a couple songs/videos to hear/see and they seemed intriguing enough, so we got there right on time for the show but none too early. When we turned the corner of Main onto Penn Ave. we could hear music coming from all the way upstairs since all the doors were open and the front façade was wide open, too. I tried to shout my name to the guy at the ticket table at the top of the stairs and he clearly couldn't understand me, so I pulled out my license and pointed to my name. He asked "Did you win the contest?" and I nodded and he stamped our hands and that was that. I noticed that the sheet of paper on top of the money drawer, which usually contains the will-call/pre-ordered tickets list of names had only one name on it, and it was not mine. That explained the momentary confusion and the sparse crowd. We walked in to find the first band midsong with four people towards the left of the room near the stage and two people seated in the comfy booth under the Frida Kahlo painting (at least, I think it's a painting OF Frida Kahlo and not one made BY her but I may be completely wrong; anybody actually know?) and nobody else. It was genuinely noisy rock with guitar/bass/drums/keyboard and an old guy holding a thin flute but not playing. They finished the song and one girl in the front made some "whoo" sounds and then the band chatted with the sound guy via their mikes. It was at this point that the sound man (not the Brillobox's usual guy, I noticed) informed the band they were "live", so to speak, and no longer playing a sound check. The singer/lead guitar showed some mock (I think) frustration and they stepped offstage for about 10 minutes. As he walked by us, the singer said to Leigh and me, "Sorry that we're being brats. They didn't even give us a cigarette break." Everyone's got problems, I guess. They also took their time because Candy Claws, the originally scheduled touring opener, had "vehicle problems" according to a sign near the entrance and couldn't make it.
When they eventually took the stage, We Are The Dead revealed themselves to be a pretty solid garage rock band with a few weird twists. First of all, the singer/guitarist had a good stage presence with some sarcastic audience banter (including a few self-deprecating remarks about the people who left the show to go downstairs) to go along with the confident guitar solo strutting and well-delivered vocals. The bassist was good, too, running up and down the frets and concentrating hard, and the drummer looked solid from my vantage point towards the back. The wild cards were the keyboardist and pan flutist. The keyboardist had a string of neon-glowing eyeballs strung from his double-decker keyboard set and began the show (after their "sound check") with "a few announcements" including a short list of famous people for whom that day was the anniversary of their birth/death. Other than that, I couldn't say that he contributed much; there was one part towards the end of a song where I thought the plunky piano riff was a cool addition, but other than that there were just some awkward moments between songs where he made some electronica sounds to fill the silence. The pan flutist was a significantly older gentleman who looked, well, not quite uncomfortable onstage, but he was clearly a "special guest" (as the bandleader noted) who did not belong. In addition to being an awkward addition to the entourage, the flute sounds he made were way too high-pitched and screechy (like electronified nails-on-a-chalkboard) and only detracted from their rockin' sound. That may have been the fault of the sound board but I can't imagine he could have done much with it. While they played, I wished that they were just a three piece, because they had a solid rock vibe going on: the singer's voice sounded, to me, like a catchy combo of David Bowie and Paul Banks (from Interpol) and he really knew how to feed the reverb for melodic chaos, including singing into a (oxymoron alert!) mini-megaphone to muffle the vocals and then holding that up to the mic later on to feed the reverb wave during the end-of-set solo. Overall, an interesting sight to see/hear; if they're an opener at a show I'm going to I'll be sure to show up on time for them, but I won't be going out of way to catch them. That being said, they have an upcoming performance at the Waffle Shop on August 15, and I've been meaning to go back there more for late nite food and entertainment . . .
Pepper Rabbit took the stage next since, as their bassist informed the crowd after the first song, Candy Claws' vehicle "exploded by the side of the road . . . but nobody was hurt, don't worry!" The crowd was a bit fuller by this time and a few people showed up to pay at the door even during their set, but it was still quite empty for a Brillobox show. Leigh and I lingered on the front-left side just past the merch table, where PR's drummer had arranged some of their CDs into a house-of-cards-style pyramid. This made for a fairly intimate performance style from the band, which seemed to suit them well anyway; the bassist looked genuinely thankful for (and almost surprised by) the after-song applause and responded to some of the whoops/hollers from a group of people on the other side of the room. In fact, at the end of their set a guy yelled out for "more songs" but the bassist had to inform him "That's all we know!"
The songs PR played were a lushly orchestrated and clearly artfully crafted mix of pop/rock stylings, rhythms and tunes, and the singer made use of looping and effects pedals quite frequently. He played a clarinet, a ukulele, an electric guitar, and keyboards, and sang all of the songs and continually fed those sounds back through each other to create a really impressive sonic web. His voice is distinctive, but fits their sound quite well; he reaches for high notes in just the right way to make it sound emotive and effortful but not strained. I also found myself trying to pay attention to the lyrics since the small crowd meant and their playing style allowed me to hear them a bit better than usual (although I truly though that the refrain in "Red Wine" sounded a lot like "my crane wife" which was certainly wrong, or else "my great white" which I interpreted at the time to be some Melvillean metaphor). Meanwhile, the drummer truly peppered (hah) all of those melodic sounds with quick, driving percussion at times and soft, purposeful drum/cymbal taps at other times. His drumming style looked so fluid and effortless, leaning forward slightly to lightly touch the cymbal then leaning back and pounding out a quick 1234 on the snare, all the while jamming the pedals with his flip-flopped feet. I'm pretty sure I've never seen a drummer in flip flops, and that just oozes with an aura of "I've totally got this drumming thing under control, man". He even added a few "ooh ooh" vocals here and there, and played with two maracas in one hand and a stick in the other during the opening song (that was cool_. The bassist rounded out the trio and played some keyboard samples, too, and even added some tambourine and handheld sleigh bells (including both in one hand at one point!). He was the most talkative of the group and interacted with the crowd the most, introducing some songs as "new" and thanking us profusely at the end of each one.
I was impressed with their music, and I have to say that part of it had to do with the setting. Their set might have been better suited for the Club Cafe but the sparse crowd here worked to their advantage, I say. I bought a CD from their pyramid afterwards; it features 8 songs collected from two early EPs, and their MySpace still lists them as "unsigned" so no idea on any forthcoming albums. The singer introduced himself as Xander and shook our hands. I'd also been pondering lately about why nobody seems to ask bands point-blank about the origins of their name, like the question is too clichéd for interviewers to even ask so we end up never learning about the meanings of some pretty fucking strange band names and some that are just plain odd (side note: my favorite band name origin story has to be Yo La Tengo). So anyway, I decided to ask Xander where Pepper Rabbit came from and now you all know: he had a pet rabbit in childhood named Dr. Pepper.
We Are the Dead
"Harvest Moon" live in LA (this user seems to have recorded the whole show; check his video list for more)
short clip from the first ever PR show, live in New Orleans
[Edit: totally forgot I took a video of the last song of Pepper Rabbit's set. It was recorded on my Android phone, so the audio quality is really terrible and the lighting makes it tough to see much, but . . . enjoy anyway, I guess.]