Friday, October 22, 2010 at Mr. Small's
It's always nice to see a bill with three bands you know, let alone three bands you actually like, so I consider myself lucky to have seen all of these guys in one night. That said, there were the usual ups and downs of any concertgoing experience, but I think I had such high hopes for the show overall that it made the downs feel more downy. So if my review seems negative, take that with a shakerful of salt, because it actually was a really good show.
ARMS is a band that I had randomly found on eMusic last year somehow and I downloaded and have enjoyed their album Kids Aflame. They also recently released a free EP which is a solid continuation of their indie pop/rock shoegaze sound. At this show, they played six or so songs, most of which seemed to be from the new EP because I didn't recognize any of them. They had all four guys (drummer, two guitarists, and keyboards/synth) crammed into the very front of the stage in front of a couple towers of amps (all of which turned out to be later used by the Japandroids guitarist). They were all fairly energetic, but the keyboardist was really getting into it, dancing around while playing and shaking his body really fast (although that may have just been a requirement for hitting those sixteenth notes with the tambourine). Check out the video below of them playing "Emily Sue, Pt. 2" from their new EP live back in January 2010 to get an idea of what they're like. I really enjoyed their set and wish they'd had time to play more.
Next up was Japandroids, a band I'd seen back in October 2009 at Garfield Artworks and boy was that a fun show. I really like their debut album Post-Nothing, full of hooky guitar melodies and screaming, singalong vocals. I'm still amazed that it's just two guys making all that sound. The show at Garfield Artworks was fun because it's such a cramped space and a tiny stage, and their loud sound really catered well to that. But for this show, Mr. Small's is such a giant, spacious room with huge, high ceilings and I think it didn't suit their style as much. Also, singer Brian King had kinda lost his voice for some reason, and was drinking from a big mug of steaming tea (I presume) and so they couldn't really pull off those screaming vocals that I enjoy so very much. Instead, it was just drummer David Prowse doing the shouting and Brian doing some low, quieter vocals. They still sounded solid, and the drumming and guitar work were as awesome as ever, but when a group of six frat bros in the front row singing along to "Young Hearts Spark Fire" are competing with your volume level, you know you're in trouble. Overall, though, and barring the voice problems, I thought it was a good set of material from their album and from the string of singles (stringles?) they've been putting out this year. Oh, also, David totally broke his cymbal stand during a song and had to play the rest of it without that cymbal since it fell off. It was kinda neat to watch him strike the air where the cymbal used to be with his stick to keep time and not get tangled up. Thankfully, the drummer from The Walkmen lent him a replacement and the show went on. Check out this video of "Young Hearts Spark Fire" below to see them when they're on their game.
Finally, The Walkmen sauntered out and assumed their separate positions onstage and played a long set of songs, mostly new but some old, including one encore. The two overwhelming impressions I took away from their set was that singer Hamilton Leithauser has an amazing voice and that these guys practice a lot. They seemed so polished and professional that they didn't even need to look at each other. A song would end, they'd acknowledge the applause, and then they'd launch into the next one with little fanfare or pause. It was an impressive display, for sure, but I don't think I'm as much of a fanboy of their material as some other people I know are, so although I enjoyed the way in which they play music and I was thoroughly awe-struck by Hamilton's ability to just keep belting out those tunes, I found myself almost bored by the end of it. I think my friend Robert summarized that ennui best later on when someone said something like, "Oh, I really liked that song they played called ---whatever it was---" and he replied with, "Yeah, it was so good they played it 12 more times." Kinda harsh, maybe, but funny and not so inaccurate, really. I would have been fine with them playing a few less songs. I might have left with a more positive attitude towards them. Still, I have enjoyed listening to their latest album, Lisbon, but I'm afraid it will go the way of their other albums I've listened to: I'll play it through a dozen or so times within a month or two of getting it, and then forget about it until another one comes out. Ugh, like I said, I don't mean to sound negative. I did really enjoy the show as a whole; I'm mostly just quibbling about the fine line between great and fan-fucking-tastic. I found this video of them playing "The Rat" at the show. This was definitely a high point of the evening, a really high one, I'll give you that.
Artist page on Polyvinyl Records
Daytrotter sessions 1, 2, 3