Friday October 22nd, 1999 at Treva's House in Raytown, MO
The Faint, Sorry About Dresden, Mollycuddle, & The Hillary Step
Armed with an excellent set of instructions I headed out to the east side for what was surely to be the house show to beat all house shows. And although I arrived nearly forty minutes late, I was of course early. Seems a traffic jam on the loop around the city (used by those who don't know the city to get from one side to another) had a several hour back up. Ouch, glad I didn't get caught in that.
Treva's garage door opened to a basement door which opened into a large concrete room. The deep red walls were nearly covered by concert flyers, glam metal posters, 50s pin up pictures, original photography and a few original paintings. A long banner ran around the top of the room repeating emotional lyrics of unknown origin. In short, this basement looked more like a rock club than a rock club.
The Hillary Step began the show with an unassuming honesty and directness. They continue to underplay the impact of their powerful and direct yet thoughtful and intricate indie rock. Although Danny's drumkit slid all over the smooth floor, with forced bassist Brian Frisbie to keep a foot in front of the kick drum during most of their set, the band still played a long well-received show. Despite the lack of monitors from the tiny PA, Brad's voice sounded lovely, and even the difficult guitar parts came off flawlessly. Like friends and touring partners Reflector, The Hillary Step seems to be more at ease in a basement than on a high stage.
Minneapolis' Mollycuddle were up next after a fairly involved (and cramped) stage change. Although this was "only" a basement show the band opted to bring in the majority of their gear including 2nd guitars. Despite the band's excellent twin guitar work and wonderfully contrasting boy/grrl vocals, it seemed most of the audience stayed upstairs in the garage.
The band is firmly rooted in pop but visit all the fringe elements possible within the genre. Guitarist/vocalist Tommy releases his emotional lyrics as much as sings them, pushing the band forward in a driving nearly pop-punk fashion. Vocalist/guitarist Sara's light voice added a much more intimate and delicate element forcing the audience to lean in and listen. With the exception of Tommy's twitching and bouncing, the band seemed a little tired and bassist Guy seemed down-right bored by the whole affair. Maybe the band was just a little road weary.
A short set change brought up Sorry about Dresden from Chapel Hill, NC. True to Chapel Hill's reputation, SAD are a power-pop powerhouse tilted a little, like a washing machine on a slope, vibrating and bouncing across the floor. Although more polished on CD, their live performance was raucous with Matt Oberst (big brother of Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes) screeching out vocals for all he was worth.
Of course all this good clean fun brought the police before too long, and while Treva was rushed upstairs to handle the law, the band played quietly in hopes of convincing the police that sound wasn't really an issue. Soon Todd Baechle from The Faint was singing an original and impromptu composition that might have been entitled the please don't shut us down song. Thiele (also from The Faint), who happened to be wearing priest's collar, ran upstairs and returned a few minutes later explaining "It's okay, I had to explain to him that we were a Christian youth ministry." True or not, it's certainly humorous. SAD was then able to continue their exuberant but unpretentious set and the police were not to be heard from again.
Unfortunately a large number of people decided to leave after SAD, missing The Faint. Fortunately once The Faint had set up their gear (three keyboards, a drum machine, a sequencer, a synth, drums, triggers, a bass, and an elabourate light show) there really wasn't much room left for an audience anyway. After almost an hour pause, the lights in the basement went out and a thick synthesized drum beat pulsed through the basement. A flash of green light brought in the rest of band and transported the 20 people in the basement to an entirely differently place and time.
If you have not seen The Faint on this tour, forget everything you know about the band. The guitar rock is gone, in fact even the guitar noises from the new CD are gone. The band is focused on electronic melodies and hooks - luckily The Faint handles both in spades. The songs are thick, short and entirely enveloping. It was the early uk new wave intrigue paired with a US no wave aesthetic.
As Baechle clutched his microphone dancing around the dimly lit, strobe lit, or completely unlit, "stage", and as the band barraged me with sounds and lights, it felt not like a basement show, but a concert. The kind of arena rock show you got excited about when you were in high school. It was The Smiths' concert you waited for for months and still brag about over a decade later.
Less than thirty minutes later it was over, and the lights came back on, and what was the interesting motif of Treva's basement was dull. I was a little out of sorts after being taken someplace vibrant but dropped back off in a basement in Missouri. I wondered if this was the same feeling you got when coming down from a drug, and just in case I picked up a copy of The Faint's just-released CD - just to smooth out any withdrawal.