Carousel Lounge, 5/20
I've been listening to The Gary's EP Chub and recommending them to people since January. Part of my enthusiasm for their music stems from the way that from the first I heard them as spiritual successors to the insanely great Silkworm, with their overdriven, drilling basslines and morose vocals. Silkworm were a band that should have been together for a lifetime and would have been were it not for the tragic passing of drummer Michael Dahlquist. Since his death I have felt their absence intensely -- they were a band I started listening to when I was about 13 and they kept putting out great records reliably every two or three years. Part of what made Silkworm so wonderful was the sense that there was nothing short of death that would stop them. They moved around the country together, from Montana to Seattle to Chicago, with everyone picking up stakes any time a bandmate's personal life or career tested their resolve. They played for each other, and the remarkable consistency of their recorded output reflected it.
Not that The Gary are a tribute act. Dave Norwood's expertly formed lyrics and utterly original style on the bass mark them as worthy heirs to the bar-band roar of Crazy Horse as filtered through the no-frills economy of 90's indie rock. With Norwood's unholy, pin-your-ears-back-against-your-head bass tone and Trey Pool's soulfully restrained foil guitar, they could jam for hours on end and it wouldn't be boring. But they never seek to promote their musicianship above their songs, and it seems like writing and recording at a brisk pace has filled their catalog with material enough to play distinct and satisfying sets each time out. Other than their virtual theme song "I May Have a Drink" most of the tunes they played Thursday were unfamiliar to me, but the set absolutely flew by -- I couldn't believe it when they announced their last tune. I wanted another hour, or two.
Given The Gary's sound and generally retro sensibilities I never expected going into the show that I would see them do something I have never seen before. But Norwood actually uses a capo on an electric bass, which isn't something I would have ever considered. Aren't bass strings too thick for that? Evidently not! Dave's style is deceptive... it can sound chugging or droning, and it's mostly simple, but every figure has just a little link or turnaround that identifies it unmistakably as his own work. He wails away with Dee Dee Ramone-esque fury on The Gary's rockers, but on their moody pieces he has a circular arpeggio style that structurally resembles fingerpicked nylon-string guitar playing, only translated to a massive-sounding, mercilessly amplified electric bass tone. I can't stress enough how hard it is to play bass this densely and yet clearly. Norwood has figured out exactly his style and Pool and drummer Paul Warner fill the spaces around him with sympathy. It's not just gearhead geekiness that makes this combination cool. Norwood's bass playing isn't random or imitative but rather intelligently designed so that his singing voice, which is miles deep, has a precise space to be heard even when the band is laying rubber. He doesn't have to shout himself hoarse for his excellent lyrics to be understood.
The Carousel Lounge might not have been the perfect place to see The Gary for the first time. It's not the kind of joint that has a dedicated sound guy or a complete set of drum microphones. To get the right tones for their instruments, Norwood needs his amp cranked, and Pool prefers a cleaner, crisper middle-volume from his tubes. I wish the drums and guitar had been running through the PA so that the bass didn't somewhat overwhelm them. But that's a minor quibble. It's very hard for me to shut off my critical thinking mode when I go to see a live band, and I can think of only a handful of examples of local shows where I stopped nitpicking and gave myself over to enjoying the music. One of them was the Free Week gig where I first saw La Snacks -- perhaps not coincidentally the same show where I helped myself to a copy of Chub. I missed The Gary that time out because Anna C. really needed a burger. I won't be leaving any shows at which they're playing again.