Too Much Rock
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Wednesday June 27th, 2007 at Beat Kitchen in Chicago, IL
Bishop Allen, The Teeth, & Locksley
Christian Rudder and Justin Rice of Bishop Allen
Cully Symington of Bishop Allen
Peter MoDavis of The Teeth
Aaron Collins of Locksley
[more photos]
[12M mp4 video]

At 7:30 the club held just over a dozen people – mostly girls, nearly all of them with Xs on their hands indicating they were younger than 21. At 7:45 Locksley climbed the stage to enthusiastic cheers. Although I had never heard of the band, it seems to have a loyal and incredibly bubbly fan base.

Locksley is a four-piece from Madison, WI that now calls Brooklyn its home. The band plays early 60s British Invasion with all the expected touchstones – all of which are surely lost on its fans. Vocalist/guitarist Jesse Laz's costume (a Fred Perry, suspenders, flat front and tapered slacks, white socks, and loafers) further cements the band's mod influence. While the sounds of 1965 reign supreme, Locksley's songs also have aggressive and driving undertones that recall 70s power-pop and punk. This same combination created the like-minded late 70s/early 80s mod-revivalists like Secret Affair or The Purple Hearts. Sadly it also created the Strokes and the rest of the 00s garage-revival scene.

From what I can tell, the band seems to have a giant hype machine behind it. Locksley has been featured in every magazine ever published, and its music is all over television (MTV, STARZ, multiple Payless Shoes commercials). So it's obvious the band has found primetime – unfortunately the rhythm section is not ready for it. Drummer Sam Bair was brutally simple. He pounded his kick and snare on every quarter note, often drowning out the intricacies of Laz & Kennedy's harmonies. Bassist Aaron Collins wasn't as clumsy, but he didn't provide the necessary flash either. In this genre, we're used to great bassists like John Entwhistle and Bruce Foxton. Collins simply has no flair. Until this is solved, I'm fine to leave the band to the kiddy set.

Philadelphia's The Teeth was up second. This schizophrenic four-piece is fronted by twin brothers Aaron (guitarist/vocalist/organist) and Peter (vocals/bass) MoDavis, with support from Brian Ashby (guitar) and Jonas Oesterle (drums). While the whole of The Teeth is rooted in rock, songs sung by (and presumably written by) Aaron MoDavis are decidedly avant-garde. These songs owe a debt to art rockers from Roxy Music to Talking Heads. Meanwhile, songs sung by Peter MoDavis are more straightforward, and would be nearly power-pop if not tempered by King Crimson-esque interjections from his brother. It's this element of the band that makes all songs (even the love songs) seem dark and dour. There is enough chaos in the band's music to make the most jaded reviewer (that'd be me) scratch his head, yet enough simplicity and honesty to draw out the fresh-faced kids. And when the brothers trade vocal lines within the same song, the concoction reaches a glorious exploding apex.

The band's stage show was without pizzazz or gimmick. The banter was limited, and what there was, was somewhat awkward. There weren't costumes (all four members wore plain and disparate t-shirts), synchronized dance movies, or planned moments to explode into motion. All movement was organic and inspired by the moment. Sock footed, Aaron MoDavis bounced around the stage, oddly kicking up one stiff leg to the side, then the other. The Mohawked Peter MoDavis was less frantic, although more intense. His complex bass lines required more than an occasional glance at the fret board, but during the aggressive, repeating moments, he pounded his Rickenbacker bass as if he were in a metalcore band. Sadly Ashby spent the majority of the set looking back at new drummer Oesterle, denying the audience the chance to study his waxed handlebar moustache. A shame really.

The club continued to fill up throughout the night. The 15 patrons that saw the beginning of Locksley's set were now the 75 waiting for the night's headlining act. These additional fans displaced the Tiger Beat contingent that once crowded the stage. As one might have guessed, Bishop Allen's fans are the savvy "fashionably late" crowd.

Brooklyn's Bishop Allen is vocalist/guitarist Justin Rice and multi-instrumentalist Christian Rudder, with a current touring line up featuring drummer Cully Symington and bassist Giorgio Angelini. Rice's solo voice began the show singing out the opening lines from "Clementines:" "Let us raise this glass of wine / for your blood burns just like mine." The band and its audience do share a passion. Bishop Allen's music is approachable and immediate. Like early Elephant 6 bands, it maintains a bedroom pop and casual lo-fi aesthetic despite embracing a multitude of instruments, lush harmonies, and complex counter-melodies. The band's lyrics range from universal themes of love and relationships to unlikely, Decemberist-esque topics such as the ironclad battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack.

The band's sensitive ballads, jangly pop songs, and building indie rock numbers were set side-by-side. While many members of the audience knew each song performed, the arrangements were often foreign, as songs were recast depending on available personnel or instruments. Generally, differences were small, however in some cases the changes were decidedly disappointing. I definitely missed the female vocals of frequent Bishop Allen collaborator Darbie Nowatka, and I felt the mood of "Castanets" was lost when the bright trumpet parts found on the album were instead performed by Rudder on a whining melodica.

Neither Rice nor Rudder is a particularly engaging frontman. As such, stage banter was limited to announcing song titles, thanking the audience, and one moment of genuine shock and appreciation for the fans present. In short, the duo was endearingly cute in its awkwardness.

Due to curfew restrictions Bishop Allen was forced to play a shortened set. This left the eager audience with seven songs from the band's forthcoming second album, two songs from previous EPs, and two from the band's debut album. This didn't seem to be enough for either the band, or its fans. As the band was being whisked off the stage by the conscientious club, Rudder hastily reminded the fans of the band's upcoming show at Subterranean on August 9th.