...Because the other bands in the show were super shitty. The Vaz were on first. They're a three-piece that look like a total guitar teacher band -- that is to say, the lead singer is a bit older and had this serious, self-important vibe about him that set my teeth on edge. It was the look of a guy who must have figured out over the years that he is one of those destined to teach guitar to rock stars in training or write articles about rock stars but who will not himself be a convincing rock star -- and who nonetheless soldiers on through one experimental, unlistenable project / band after another. The expression of concentration on his face I'm guessing reflected the effort involved in acting like his shit was awesome. It was way not awesome -- muddy, tuneless, and dissonant with too-quiet vocals and about 30% of the energy required to sell something as hook-free and humorless as it was.
When the next band also sucked (Iran, I think they were called. Too many beards and newsboy caps; not enough rock), Eve and I decided to ditch and check out another show. We got to Cake Shop just in time to see the second half of a set by a Norwegian band called Lukestar. Terrible name, and the guys were all sort of visually unappealing (stocky, bug-eyed) but their music was great -- tight, hard-charging punk-rock rock-and-roll music with strong vocals and lead guitar hooks. They were obviously psyched to be playing -- they mentioned several times that they'd never traveled outside of Europe before. We begged them for an encore but Cake Shop (I think) said no.
Next up was The XYZ Affair, an NYU band that Razor opened for a few years ago. I remember not liking them at the time (too twee, I think I thought), but they were agreeable enough this time around. Their lead singer has this annoying habit of smiling while he's singing, which makes him look kind of smug, but their songs are engaging and well-written and their arrangements meet my caveman requirements for simplicity. A good sign: It was, like, two in the morning by the time they finished playing, and I wasn't even tired.
In between sets, Eve directed my attention to this NYU student-type girl in front of us who was furiously typing out a response to somebody on some kind of computer-phone doo-dad:
"Oh, you know, the usual. In NYC. Feeling fucking miserable."I don't see how.
The next day I headed up to Chelsea for the annual WFMU record fair at the Metropolitan Pavilion. I'm not really into records (hell, I don't even own a turntable), but ever since Tom got me listening to 7SD, I've been really taken with the feeling of oddball community the station cultivates. The on-air talent are all so good-natured and dorky and close-knit that it's easy to start feeling like you're having a rap session with some friends from high school you were too cool to hang out with more but maybe it's not too late to start, etc. -- until you remember that, like, a hundred thousand people listen to FMU and take it super seriously. And that was totally evident at the record fair, which might have been more packed with beardos than the FSF's annual meeting. I was there, though, to fan it up for Ken Freedman and Andy Breckman. Ken was working the front desk (with his wife and daughter, I think?) but Andy was nowhere to be found. I walked around the floor for a while and listened to DMBQ play an incongruously wild set, given that it took place in the corner of a florescently-lit convention showroom, but then my legs started to hurt, so I popped into Rebel Monkey, Inc. to take a load off. Idly checking the record fair schedule, though, I saw that Ken and Andy were slated to begin judging a Halloween costume contest that had started five minutes after I'd left and only just ended! I hurried back to the Pavilion, but there were no Breckmans to be found.
A few things I noticed about the record fair:
- Literally all the vendors had Who records for sale / trade
- The Who are a startlingly ugly bunch of dudes -- besides Daltrey, the band is like 85% schnoz and beard -- and yet the majority of their album covers feature them striking unironic heartthrob poses in front of shit like shipping containers and public toilets
- Bands that put out albums during the seventies all have at least one record with some weird-ass surrealist art on the cover. Like, think Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, but more out there: I could swear I saw a weeping Trosper giving birth to the World Tree on the cover of a Hall & Oates LP.
- Are "comedy albums" cool or lame? Because there sure were a fuck of a lot of them up for sale, and some of you have birthdays coming up
I was beat, but that night it was back up to the Party House with Nina to see Vivian Girls opening for Jay Reatard. The 'Girls apologized for their exhaustion after playing four CMJ shows in 24 hours, but I thought they were pretty good. It's hard for me to tell when off-key singing is part of a band's premise or if they just can't hear themselves, but Vivian Girls do some of that. It doesn't not suit them. I don't know.
As the curtains on the stage parted for his set, Jay Reatard stepped forward and said, "Man, you guys ready for a fucking puppet show?" We all kind of looked at each other trying to figure out what that meant. "This curtain fucking sucks," he clarified. "Who else here hates these stupid curtains?" Only a smattering of hands went up. "Huh," he said. "Looks like we got some curtain fans in the house."
His set was fucking awesome, though -- incredibly high-energy and aggressive. I'd never seen him live before and had only heard an apparently non-representative selection of his stuff online; he actually sounds a lot like Screeching Weasel, in a good way -- the songs are short and catchy, the vocals are just the right amount of adenoidal. And, in a move that totally needs to make a comeback from when I used to see bands in high school, there was no talking between songs. He'd just call out the name of the next song and go. Efficient. A guy standing next to me leaned in at one point and said, "He doesn't sound the way he looks." Indeed -- Jay and his bass player both have enormous curly hairdos (think Roger Daltrey and Macy Gray, respectively) that they can sort headbang around, although Jay mostly kept his head down, the hair covering his face completely, delivering his lyrics Mitch Hedberg-style.