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Show Review Crush: TAB the Band, Princeton, and Art Brut at ME Down 10/16

October 22, 2009

“It feels like fifteen years ago,” my Showing Going Friend Joe said. “It feels like fifteen years ago when I was back in San Francisco.”

Joe was talking about TAB the Band last Friday night at Middle East Down. Tab had Joe swooning in nostalgia and memories of local California bands he’d rocked out to in the ’90s with their ’70s-inspired rock and roll (check out BBC’s interview with them last week). This was a group of boys I could’ve sworn I’d heard on WOXY (but probably never did) (and holla to my Midwestern roots!) with hot bass lines and driving guitars that made me think of Kaiser Chiefs. Later, too, I found myself comparing the lead singer’s voice to Ozzy – an odd twist in the mix, considering the music was anything but metal, more like a college-rock-meets-indie-rock-meets-really-really-good-and-you-should-go-see-them. When I mentioned my Ozzy musings to Showing Going Friend Joe, he thought I wasn’t too off, noticing a lot of their bass lines reminded him of a particular Black Sabbath album. Tab the Band was rad and an excellent opener for any show, pumping up a crowd that seemed to already dig them and know their lyrics.

Next up was Princeton, a band actually from California, being based in LA. I’m gonna be honest, folks – they looked and sounded like a band you’d see playing in the background of a party on Gossip Girl. And when I told this to Show Going Friend Lindsay, she shook her head, said, “No way, more like The Hills,” though she meant this more as a compliment than a snark. Her friend Alex, though, turned to us with rolled eyes and yelled into our ears, “Thank you for bringing me to see The Jonas Brothers.” They were dark haired brooders prepared for a spread in Teen and, for all I know, that may happen for them. But they sounded like a version of Ben Kweller who forgot to be interesting. And I suppose that’s what got me – Princeton is not bad or untalented or awful at songwriting. Their mellow songs that were sometimes “dancey,” as they called them, simply felt uninspired.

Topping off the evening was Art Brut, a band I’ve listened to a few times while driving in Show Going Friend Joe’s Jeep, a band with a heavy rock feel and an even heavier British accent. After this show, though, sweet lord, I’m a fan for life. Art Brut’s singer has a style that is difficult to describe – it’s an awful lot like storytelling within each verse, accompanying chanting choruses that a knowing crowd pounds a fist to, stomps a foot to. During “My Little Brother,” a song about a sibling discovering rock and roll for the first time, fans of the song know the lyrics, “He no longer listens to A-sides / He made me a tape of bootlegs and B-sides / And every song on that tape, said exactly the same thing / why don’t our parents worry about us?” though the singer improvises a story, tells us about the tape, says the first song on that tape was a Police song, that the second song on that tape begins with — and the band played a few riffs of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” The song ends with the lyric, “Stay off the Crack!” with the singer then telling us, “Really, I can’t emphasize that enough.” Similar improvisations of lyrics came during every song, with the singer emoting each word – it gives the effect of sitting down at a pub with a pint and having this dude tell you his story (cheesy to say about some Brits? Maybe. True? You betchya). During “Rusted Guns of Milan,” we hear the singer call himself a coward (not in the original song), and it breaks your heart a little, feels like you’re getting a confession from him even though you’re just another show-goer. During a different version of “Modern Art,” we hear the story of an adventure within DC Comics headquarters (a long, long, interesting story I should’ve been writing down the whole time) that is definitely not on the original recording. And my favorite? “Emily Kane,” a song about being in love with the girlfriend you had when you were fifteen, showed up in their set with an update – we learn Emily Kane is back in the singer’s life, that she’s taken, but it’s okay, because he’s just happy to have her in his life, “which goes to show the power of rock and roll!”

The power of rock and roll was a running theme, with many cries from the band for anyone, everyone, to start a band, to go to local record shops, to forget DVDs and computers and to go find some vinyl. These callings, which had the potential to be preachy or seem like musical politicking, were actually inspiring. Other highlights? Their bass playes looks strikingly like the other legal assistant I work with named Donna and have you ever seen a drummer who wasn’t in a marching band playing while standing up? I have not. But Art Brut’s drummer does.

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