Mistreated over the weekend
I arrived at Club Garibaldi knowing nothing about any of the five bands on the bill that night (except, of course for hometown hosts, the legendary Mistreaters). All I knewabout them was that they were all good garage punk bands. I caught the end of Drugs Dragons' set - they looked to be a tight, but energetic standard lineup fronted by a surly confrontational bastard who stepped into the audience for the end. Good stuff.
Next up was Digital Leather, who had me at the shorts worn by the guitarist. Lead singer/frontman Shawn Foree is wearing an obvious wig, and a winger vest he must have picked up at the sale bin at Sears. He's standing in front of a synth/keyboard, but while these guys have synthesizers, this ain't no Flock of Seagulls. The synth isn't there to make them a synth band. They're still a very tough garage band,- the synth is there to power the sub-bass sound that wakes up the room. They didn't even have to grow on me -- good concept, executed well. Whoda thunk this would have come out of Nebraska!
OK, let's get the obvious thing lots of people noticed about Chicago's Cococoma out of the way now. Guitarist and co-lead singer Lisa Roe (her husband is the drummer and sings too) is a dead ringer for Kim Deal, from her wide open but incredulous grin right down to flannel shirt she changed into after their set. Except that as a guitarist, Roe plays rings around Deal. She's got that clearly confrontational but vulnerable voice, too. Husband Bill Roe -- who's set some kind of standard by NOT putting his drums up on the drum riser, making for a tight fit on stage -- is the chief singer. The band holds together nicely, pumping out a string of songs that have that wonderful danger of sounding like they're going to fall apart at any minute, but they never do. Lisa spastically swings back and forth while picking out her notes, and after their set, it's clear they've (deservedly) earned some new fans.
The drums stay on the front of the stage for the next act, the highly recommended Hex Dispensers, out of Austin, TX. OK, really, has there ever been a band out of Austin that sucked? No, and this band doesn't either. Face it, when your town is home to a top music school -- one that's actually a public university so regular folk can afford to go there, you're not getting out of the basement if you can't play. And as long as I'm comparing garage folk to indie celebrities, the Dispensers' lead guitarist looks a tad bit like Thom Yorke, no? But they're not self-important like Radiohead. They're nothing like Radiohead. They're full of greap garage pop three minute statements, which they make, punctuate, and move on. That might be their only weakness -- that they have a formula (good pop anthem held together with gritty duct tape) but it's a good formula and they're sticking to it.
Finally, the Mistreaters. They put their drums back on the riser, because they're going to need the whole stage for Christreater, who's all over it. 1-2-3-4, they're on. The crowd is moving, fists in air, swaying, the floor is suddenly slippery with spilled beer, christreater is throwing himself into the audience....well bust my britches, I'm in a good old fashioned moshpit! Out go my elbows to protect myself and my camera, out goes my butt like I'm playing defense for the Milwaukee Bucks. And here's the band, pusing through all their "hits" and goading the crowd to cheer for the bands that came before them, fans singing along, fans even firing back at the band. Good clean fun, I say. Wonderful night, complete with bands pushing their wares, including vinyl wares and a DJ keeping us happy between sets. And one of the DJ's had the Sparks "I Predict" on 45 -- a detail I caught early in the evening that pretty much sealed up the credibility of this event for me even before Digital Leather took the stage.
Also seen in the past week: Two night earlier, I caught the Quinn Scharber band in the same venue. Not a huge crowd (it was a Thursday, they were up against the Fiery Furnaces, and they didn't even have Garibaldi's legendary chicken wings) but enough to appreciate Schaber's sweet tenor on his solid pop writings. I'm normally not real big on straight up pop, but this was good stuff: interesting chord changes and turnarounds, good band behind him. I liked him, and I liked the band. Good stage presence-- he understood his crowd was smaller and he worked with it. The band before him, Surgeons of Heat, had a similar thing going (they shared a guitarist/bass player), except they are clearly newer: they needed to get more of Scharber's feel for dynamics. Surgeons in Heat's songs didn't seem to have any dynamics, and after three or four (albeit well written) pop hooks, they kind of lost me. But all is not lost: the Surgeons have a good thing going, their lead singer sometimes breaks into a lovely but strong falsetto that is radio ready with the right production. But hopefully playing with Scharber will teach him dynamics, and building up a crowd. And back to Scharber: Just one thing, Quinn: Lose that hideous scarf thingy around your neck. Unless it was a gift from your mother or girlfriend or something, it makes you look like you're this sensitive poet guy that's needs John Belushi (or Worf) to smash your guitar.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to mentally prepare for Brian Barney's funeral.