The staff at the bar told me to expect a sell out, and warned me that I should get there nice and early if I wanted a good vantage point. So at 9:00 I tore Katie away from her homework and we drove down to The Brick. At 9:15 there were maybe 20 people in the bar. At 10:00, it might have been 80. This was going to be a sell out?
At 10:15 three members of Kansas City's The Beautiful Bodies took the stage. From my excellent and earned vantage point I could follow a microphone cable as it snaked its way from the centre of the stage until it disappeared under a curtain just out of view. From there frontwoman Alicia Solombrino hyped the band as the players tore into opener "Touch Me." Soon Solombrino joined her bandmates on stage, beginning a thirty-five minute, high energy set. On stage she's a terribly nimble minx with an impossible volume of hair that she whips around mercilessly. There were back bends and kicks and a tiny, partially meshed jumpsuit, all of which recalled Juliette Lewis's work with the Licks. Of course Solombrino's biggest icon to hurdle isn't Lewis, but Karen O; both Solombrino and O share a similar larger-than-life persona that oozes with power and sexual energy. Thankfully Solombrino doesn't share the same guttural vocals, but instead has a comfortable range than can move from sweet and coy to a powerful, shredding scream not heard since Tragic Mulatto's Fistula.
The band's music is a welcome, albeit familiar, blending of hard rock, punk, and danceable post-punk that relies on the pulsing bass of Luis Arana and the tight beats of drummer Brian Jewell. The warm and open guitar flourishes which Corey Vitt adds to the band's danceable songs are a curious choice, but his overdriven riffs work wonderfully in the darker and harder numbers such as the band's pummelling signature song "Strut" used to closed the set. In total the band played nine songs including a new number entitled "You're a Risk." Solombrino explained that song was about her intention to seduce each member of the audience after the show. When she sang, everything was delivered with a nod, a wink, and a pelvic thrust, but between songs Solombrino was surprisingly conversational and, well, likeable. I didn't expect that.
There was a long pause between acts as the stage was prepared for the headliner. Having seen Har Mar Superstar before, I wondered how his high-energy show would translate to the tiny stage at The Brick. When Har Mar Superstar's band had completed its assembly, the guys slipped out the front door of the club bound for their makeshift dressing room (aka the tour van). Upon their return minutes later, the threesome looked a lot like a painting crew in their white pants and white tee shirts – I suppose all the colour was reserved for the main attraction. Moments later, Har Mar Superstar (aka Sean Tillman) emerged from the back of the club wearing a (sequined!) golden kaftan with a bold African print on both the front and back. Chunky beats and heavy bass soon overpowered the room as Har Mar spit out the ribald first number of the night.
For those not familiar with Har Mar there are two key points which must be made: The first, he's a short, chubby, balding man who looks remarkably like a young Ron Jeremy. Second he's a tireless performer who dances all over the stage and into the audience, working the crowd into a bigger frenzy than anyone should have the right to. How quips like "Give it up for me!" work for him is a mystery, but when Har Mar tells the ladies to scream, the ladies scream. No one can work jaded twenty-something indie rockers like Har Mar.
As the show progressed, Har Mar started peeling layers; the first item to go was the golden kaftan, then a heavy orange baja pullover, followed by a vintage, and now sleeveless, Prince tour tee, and finally the sweat-soaked grey undershirt, until he was bare-chested. The orange pants came off for the final two numbers leaving Har Mar on stage in a pair of Paul Frank jockey shorts, black socks, and silver running shoes. This is his shtick, but it works every time. In the past, Har Mar has used the momentary hypnosis he is able to cast upon crowds to make out with members of the crowd, but not this night. On this night Har Mar was suffering from an unknown malady that left him tired and feverish, and with a voice that gave way to raspy vocals. It was best that he didn't spread the contagion.
Har Mar Superstar's set focused primarily on tracks from the band's recently released album "Dark Touches" but did slip back to the previous album for tracks like the bouncy pop of the Stevie Wonder-esque "D.U.I." – an impossibly cute song about drunk dialling. Most of the songs forgo cute for overt sexuality that might feel pointlessly vulgar if not delivered by the pudgy thirty-something white guy from Minnesota. US audiences (unlike those in the UK) tend to see Har Mar Superstar as a novelty act, but Har Mar plays it straight. He's serious about the funk and R&B he creates – even if his audience of hipsters appear not to.
Just before midnight, as a mostly nude Har Mar stood on stage, the band began its final number, "Tall Boy." This track was originally written for Britney Spears (Har Mar has written a surprising number of songs recorded by mainstream artists) who refused to sing the double entendre-riddled track. Rather than let the gem to go waste, Har Mar Superstar has reclaimed it as the first single from the band's new album. As the song ended, Har Mar replaced the microphone in the stand that had been tossed aside at the beginning of the set, gathered up his pile of sweaty clothes, and pushed through the cheering (now-sellout) crowd toward the back of the club and its private offices. There was no encore – but the ailing Har Mar did survive this last night of the tour. As soon as the stage was cleared, and the van loaded the band embarked on a two-day drive back to Los Angeles while the unlikely sex symbol slept feverishly in the back seat.