Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Pedro The Lion / John Vanderslice at the Cats Cradle Back Room - 5/6/2019

Pedro The Lion
With John Vanderslice
Cats Cradle Back Room

Back in my Bay Area days (which feels like yesterday but was actually 11 years ago, and that is DEPRESSING), you couldn’t throw a cat at a small or mid-size indie rock show for which John Vanderslice wasn’t an opener.  It had been a long time, but seeing him on stage was a real flashback to days gone by.  For me, Vanderslice was always one of those performers who was just…fine, you know?  I didn’t dislike him or his music, but I was also never excited to hear him.  This many years later, I suppose I enjoyed him a little more than I did in the past, though I still wouldn’t have been angry if he wasn’t on the bill.  One big difference is instead of a full band, at this gig he just had his guitar, a Roland drum machine of some sort (my favorite part of his set), and a jar of questions that he would periodically answer.  In fact he might have talked as much as he played – this might be why it felt like he played for too long.  He seemed to have a lot of fans in the audience though, so I might be in the minority with my middling feelings on a John Vanderslice performance.   

Pedro The Lion had a light show set up on the stage that, while not overpowering, looked goddamn ridiculous for a stage the size of the Cat’s Cradle Back Room.  But other than shining directly in my eyes and burning out my retinas a few times, it was more a humorous footnote than anything else, a rare sign of excess from a surprising source.  I saw the first version of Pedro in the late nineties at the old Go! Studios, which just happens to be the club the Back Room most often gets compared to by old people like myself, so it sorta feels like the band has come full circle.  Or maybe I have?  Or both?  Or maybe the clubs in Carrboro are just really enamored with this small, two-story style of venue.  Additionally worth noting: well over half of the crowd looked exactly like frontman (and let’s be honest, he IS Pedro The Lion) David Bazan – a little overweight, bearded, middle-aged, and bald or on their way there (I’m 4-for-4 on each of those traits).  It makes you wonder: does the crowd pick the band, or does the band pick the crowd due to some cosmic alignment from the god or gods or absence of god floating in the ether?  Speaking of god: to no one’s surprise, there were a couple of “hip” pastors standing behind me talking shop about congregations or steeples or whatever it is preachers do to fill their days.  That whole thing is very weird to me, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Hey, how about I stop talking about this useless nonsense and actually mention the performance?  If you’ve ever seen Pedro (or any Bazan outing), you know you’re not getting a dynamic stage show…however you will get great songs and some deadpan banter that is always much funnier than it has any right to be.  They played a lot of tracks from their most recent record “Phoenix,” a terrific return to form after a 15 year hiatus (even if, let’s be honest, Bazan didn’t really stop between those years and instead released solo records that more or less sound exactly like Pedro because it’s all the same thing no matter what name he wants to put on the spine of the release).  Of course I would have loved more older songs, but we did at least get “Penetration” and “Big Trucks,” two of his all-time best.  I would sacrifice a small child to get an entire performance of the album “It’s Hard To Find A Friend,” for the record.  Still, it a was a good time – I’m sure all the middle-aged shlubs in attendance would agree. 

Idles / Fontaines D.C. at Kings - 5/5/2019

With Fontaines D.C.

When this show was announced I was on a cruise in the Caribbean, but I was so excited that I bought their expensive (and slow) internet just to make sure I could get a ticket, thinking it would sell out before I got back on land.  It ended up not selling out until a few weeks later, but Idles sells out 3000 seat venues multiple nights in a row in the UK, and I wasn’t going to tempt fate with a venue the size of Kings.

First though: Fontaines D.C. from Dublin, Ireland.  Kings doesn’t typically start their shows right on time but tonight they did – and with the line to get into the club out the front door downstairs, I could only listen to muffled versions of their first couple of songs.  Their set was only  eight songs total, but what they lack in longevity they make up for in intensity.  They reminded me of a more punk, more modern version of the Fall, and I was way into it.  From a (somewhat) local perspective, if you dig Patois Counselors you’ll probably be into these kids.  It was due to this performance that I went back and listened to their debut album “Dogrel” again – seeing them live was the key to unlocking what is surely one of my favorite records of the first half of the year, after somewhat ignoring the album on my first listen a few weeks before this gig.

After nearly ten years of seeing shows there, Idles managed to produce the most animated crowd I’ve ever seen at Kings – fist pumping, moshing, crowd surfing, and LOTS of singing along (I’m guilty of that last one myself).  It might actually be the most active I’ve seen any crowd, regardless of venue, since some of those Archers of Loaf and/or Superchunk performances at the Cradle in the nineties…back when youth was on the side of both myself and those bands.  I had seen live footage of Idles online so I knew more or less what to expect from one of their performances, but it still managed to blow my expectations out of the water.  The guitarist closest to me was stripped down to his underwear before the first note was struck, and it felt like he spent as much of his time in the crowd (or standing on the bar in the back of the room) as on the stage.  The other guitarist was frequently playing on his back on the ground, like someone trying to perfect their impression of Marty McFly when he was pretending to be Chuck Berry.  All the while singer Joe Talbot presides over the mayhem like a circus ringleader, a knowing grin on his face as he barks to the crowd about class struggle and loving your fellow man.  I can say unequivocally his between song banter was the most enlightened/”woke” I’ve ever heard, which isn’t surprising given the content of their songs from their two full lengths, “Brutalism” and “Joy As An Act Of Resistance.”  Their set was mostly from these two records, leaning more heavily on the latter – sing-alongs to fan favorites like “I’m Scum” and “Danny Nedelko” were worth the price of admission alone.  In Fugazi-like fashion (surely a HUGE influence on these guys), there would be no encore, as the band would give it their all during regulation and without the need for overtime.   

Hot Snakes / Mannequin Pussy at Motorco - 5/2/2019

Hot Snakes
With Mannequin Pussy

It’s pretty exciting to have the opportunity to see Hot Snakes live again, this time without the cross-country flight, but rather a 20 minute drive.  This gig was originally scheduled last fall but got cancelled, and honestly I wasn’t holding out much hope that it would be rescheduled – Durham is a long damn way from San Diego, after all – but sometimes good things happen.  Gar Wood couldn’t make this show (and I assume the whole tour?), so instead Hot Snakes had Night Marcher’s Tommy Kitsos fill in.  This would have been an ideal time to have a Night Marchers reunion, since the Hot Snakes’ John Reis and Jason Kourkounis are also in that band, but we’d still be short one member…and that one member would be the missing Gar Wood.  I guess at that point you’d have to get Hot Snakes’ front man Rick Froberg to fill in for Gar, but then you’re just back to where you started – three-quarters of two original bands, or one Frankenstein act.  Fuck it, we got half of Drive Like Jehu and Pitchfork on the stage too, how about all of them play and we sort out the details later?  Where am I going with any of this hoopleheadedness?  Damned if I know.

Unfortunately Hot Snakes doesn’t always bring out the best people to their gigs – in particular there was this one lumbering, performative giant who spent the first half of the show draped all over me, no matter how much room I kept giving him beside me.  He also spent a lot of time half on the stage – I think he was mistakenly under the impression folks were there to see him and not Hot Snakes.  Another particularly out-of-hand character at one point grabbed me by the throat in a half-assed attempt at a stage dive, but I still preferred this attempted re-creation of the end of “Bloodsport” to Paul Bunyan and his constant need to be seen and felt (never mind his arms always in front of my camera as he constantly pointed his finger directly in the face of Reis).  Despite all of this I still enjoyed myself because goddamn it all, Hot Snakes are so fucking good at doing music, particularly live.  I wasn’t even mad that the vocals were often way too low (hopefully that was just a front-of-the-stage problem and not true for the whole house) – on hits like “LAX” and “Automatic Midnight” and “Suicide Invoice,” the crowd was doing plenty enough singing along to help.  There was of course a lot of tracks from last year’s “Jericho Sirens,” an album that stands just as tall as anything they recorded during their first pass as a band – “Six Wave Hold-Down” is the stand-out both on that record and live.  It is here I will also lodge the same complaint I did the last time I saw them – the lack of “Mystery Girl” from their set is a serious fucking bummer.  It’s their best song, and for some reason they’re allergic to playing it live…maybe Reis is just over singing lead, but I don’t give a shit who sings it, I just want it sung.

The opening act was Mannequin Pussy, a band of which I had heard, but not sure I’d ever actually “heard.”  It would be kinda hard to forget that name, after all.  Their music was mostly in the realm of heavy punk with some occasional almost-hardcore moments, plus a few mainstream nineties-style “alternative rock” songs strewn into the set here and there.  For these more mainstream tracks, it would be impossible not to compare the band to Hole, as Mannequin Pussy singer Marisa Dabice seemed to be directly channeling the ghost of Courtney Love during these particular offerings.  These slower songs were not my favorite part of their set, but then again I was never a Hole fan.  At the same time, it’s this more “pop” direction that is most likely going to move the band up the ladder of success, if that’s what they’re interested in.  Speaking of Dabice – she was a born performer.  It’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off of her for the entire performance, particularly on the few songs when she put the guitar down and went into full “lead singer” mode.  Also, I’m struggling to figure out how much I can even say about this performance without being an inconsiderate asshole in this day and age – let’s just say it felt quite sexual to me, whether or not that was her intention.  Subsequently, the way she was moving on stage was very photogenic, but part of me felt wrong for taking photos of it (obviously, I still did, because my desire for a good shot is greater than my shame).  She was clearly performing in public for all to see, but still, something about it felt…private.  And I definitely felt like a dirty old man watching & taking photos of it.  I’m not entirely sure what to think about this band after this show – they have a new record coming out on Epitaph (who I thought only released mall punk) very soon, and I’ll be very curious to hear what it sounds like.  Mannequin Pussy are at a minimum intriguing, which is always better than boring right?  And shit, they might even be good.