Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let's All Get Wet

Bang Bang Theodores, A Giant Dog, ELVIS, Pataphysics
US Art Authority, 7/24

The Body Wash turned out to be a really memorable, laid-back event. I'm trying hard these days to get into the spirit of things instead of observing from the margins, so I even took my shirt off and enjoyed a good scrubdown. This will probably be your last chance for a while to see so much of my blinding paleness exposed to the sun. Sorry if you missed it. Anna C. was bold enough to go to the show in a sparkly bikini and a lot of the bands played in their bathing suits as well. The least I could do was unbutton my Hawaiian shirt and bat at a sudsy beach ball as it passed overhead.

The best thing about the show, apart from the uniform high quality of the acts involved, was the communal spirit. Most of the members of all the bands were hanging out and watching the music from beginning to end. As Pataphysics concluded the festivities, we observed folks from A Giant Dog furiously texting to set up a house party so they could play again that night. (We thought about going but then, in a move that contrasts our late-20's exhaustion against their limitless early-20's energy, went home and promptly fell asleep.)

I had a rough week of worrying about the increasing number of people who are going to totally misinterpret my criticism as the blog expands into print form. It felt great to hear from Austin musicians I respect that bands in these parts should be held to a higher standard. Andrew, guitarist/writer for A Giant Dog and a really thoughtful guy, has a fire in his eyes I recognize as we bemoan the low standard of songwriting in the regional indie scene. "It's Austin. It's the music town!" Dustin of ELVIS, still sweaty from the stage and succinctly between drags: "Write the truth."

Truth is every single one of these four bands is terrific and each in their own way does something specific to stand out among the limitless competition in the music town. The Bang Bang Theodores divide themselves from the punk-pop power trio rabble with vocal melodies of obvious quality and arrangements that give the songs nice peaks and valleys. Most in the style go full guns blazing from the intro to the big finish, seldom an approach that keeps a whole set list interesting. The Theodores didn't lose me for a second and it didn't hurt that they also rocked out pretty hard on stage, climbing on their equipment and shimmying nonstop. A Giant Dog seem to be at all the cool parties, but that might be a chicken-and-egg thing. Singer Sabrina is the visual focal point (and elegant indeed did she look in her old-fashioned one-piece) but the boys in the band know how to get down, too. They played this show with a guest drummer from the Bad Lovers, which was an interesting contrast from the Calliope Musicals show on Friday. Bad Lover Caleb has a different style than A Giant Dog's usual timekeeper Orville, with more and faster drumrolls, but the difference was more of a subtle thing to appreciate than a jarring change in approach. That's because A Giant Dog's style (like X if they listened to more 60's A-sides) is firmly established with songs and strong riffs that set the tone.

I had heard hushed rumors about ELVIS but didn't know what to expect from the reality. They really blew me away. Surprisingly catchy for a No Wave/performance art-influenced band, they have real songs and good ones. Their frontman likes to play the provacateur, humping the stage and fondling his barely-clothed self with Iggy/Holly Johnson reckless abandon. He's really good at it -- literally straddling the line between entertainment and discomfort, capping the post-Madonna materialism of "Double Your Wardrobe" by rhyming "record collection" with "erection" and pausing to lay big wet kisses on all his bandmates, boys and girl. This is a stage act good enough to get over by itself were the band just kind of chugging in unison in the background, but they're quite a lot more than that. The guitar playing complements the singing with different kinds of calculated obnoxiousness -- sheets of out-of-time, delayed-to-oblivion noise that build in tandem with the lyrics on one tune, then another that cheerfully plagiarizes Link Wray's "Rumble" (in a self-aware, artistic way) before grinding into another movement. Their drummer has chops and although the bass playing is frequently just one note... it's always the right note.

It's been a long time, too long, since last we saw Pataphysics. That was in the rush of late March, too, when it was hard to take a moment to process all of the different new music. Let me state more authoritatively that they write some of the very best songs in Austin. "Girl, You Make Me Feel Like a Weirdo" is genius. They have a wonderful performer for a frontman -- I'd really like to see him face off against Robert from La Snacks, possibly with David Bowie in attendance -- and each of the players feeds off his central energy in a different way, from their bassist's stoic cool to the guitar and keyboard players' sudden random dance outbursts. Their drummer has a film-skipping-frames, freeze-and-lunge way of playing that suits the band's new wave inspirations and makes him really fun to observe doing his thing. I wish he were evident on more of their recordings, because his ideas in particular make the live version of Pataphysics rather more fun than the online one.

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