Wednesday October 11th, 2000 at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Les Savy Fav, The Bennett Brothers, & Fifth Ticket Fraud
(Show Note: I unfortunately arrived at this show with camera in hand, but no smart card in the camera to store the photos. So although the visuals were fantastic, I failed you and thus, no pictures for you here. If someone has pictures of this show they'd like to share, I'd be happy to post 'em up.)
I had never even heard of Les Savy Fav when Vanessa excitedly told me about the upcoming show. And because she was quite emphatic about going, which doesn't happen often, I took notice. Vanessa has very good taste in music; if she makes a suggestion, you should follow her advice. So even when Vanessa cancelled in a mature response to three looming mid-terms, I decided to head out to the show regardless.
Ryan picked me up from work at 9pm (a 13 hour day happens more than I'd like to admit to my IWW fellow workers) and we quickly headed out I-70 to Lawrence listening to the second presidential debate on NPR. In return for him picking me up from downtown, I picked up the toll. I doubt he would think it worth the $1.25, but it's so much better than two separate folks driving out to Lawrence when we only live 3 blocks apart. We walked into the Bottleneck around 10pm, paid the $6 and decided we probably had just enough time for a quick game of pool. The new cue sticks were a pleasant surprise. Not having an 8 ball, but instead having two ones and two fourteens wasn't as pleasant. With the help of the bar, things got sorted out and Ryan dropped the final ball into the corner pocket to beat me just as Fifth Ticket Fraud began their first song. It's called timing son.
I'm not sure where Fifth Ticket Fraud came from but since this was a KJHK sponsored show, I'd wager someone at the band is a DJ at the station. Aside from the vocalist/guitarist, the band were really a nondescript bunch that simply looked the college student part. The stand out looked as though he might be an indie rocker with his thrift store clothes hanging off a tall thin frame. At the better moments the band could conjure up images of late Replacements or even The Pixies. However generally, the band seemed to be an amalgamation of every popular college rock band of a few years past when alternative had it's last gasp with Toad the Wet Sprocket then officially gave up the reigns to the Matchbox 20s of the new world (a sad day for all of us I can assure you).
Although several songs and parts of many more were engaging and intelligent, the set on the whole was not. They had the scent of a young band playing nearly every song they had written, including the ones they didn't like anymore. The band's utter lack of attention to dynamics also contributed to my perception of the bands' naiveté. The second guitarist seemed to be unsure throughout the night and would gingerly play notey interludes or leads while confidently strumming out the power chords. The drummer played a standard rock fare while maintaining the most pained expression of exhaustion and forgetting entirely that drums can be played a different volumes at different times. To be fair, the bassist played several very interesting runs that accented or held the melody, and the lead vocalist's guitar work was noisy and bold without being brutish. His vocals matched the audience's expectations set forth in cost-cutter brand college rock, although his stage presence was awkward and shy at best. A band with potential possibly. A band in need of direction and production to be sure.
As FTF cleared their gear from the stage Ryan and I headed back for another game of pool (all balls accounted for this time) and again he beat me by clearing the final ball from the table. Again, so close! While the loss was expected, The Bennett Brothers were not. Instead of the normal rock assortment of guitars, basses and a drum kit in the background, the stage sat nearly empty with a drum kit set to one side (and configured for a jazz player), an upright bass in the middle, and to the right a violin running through a bank of effects pedals. Oh my what had I gotten myself into?
Flash forward forty-five minutes and nearly everyone in the club seemed to be thinking that same thing. Although I enjoyed the free and improvisational elements of their live set, the delivery vehicle was just too much for me. A violin drenched in a plethora of electronic effects then double dipped in delay is not a good starting ground, and its position was only further degraded by the short saw strokes the violinist inflicted upon his instrument. I think he was probably a lovely player in another life, but his vision of the instrument just didn't mesh well with mine. The bass player was a little more traditional and side from periodic vertical bowing of a lifted and pulled string which created an unpleasant grinding noise, things worked pretty much as you'd expect - some bow, some plucked, nothing slapped. Featured drummer Brian Johnson was, fortunately, a rather standard (though quite talented and free) jazz drummer. Whether playing with sticks or mallets he kept his parts light - often neglecting to even keep time for the band. When allowed to solo he built slowly adding volume, speed and additional drums in to an impressive climax that tapered slowly to pace of his other band mates. After several short uninspired solos by each member of the band, they recognized the gig was over and left the stage.
A sense of normalcy return when Les Savy Fav set up a single guitar, bass, drum kit (on the drum riser, at the back of the stage, as God intended) and small synthesizer. Normality however was the last thing on the mind of vocalist Tim Harrington as he began the band's set with a howl. Within minutes he was in the middle of the audience insisting each member of the small gathering take a turn howling back into the microphone. A few seemed to genuine enjoy this, others seemed to do it out of fear of Harrington. Although he seemed a little menacing in that Mike Watt/Dan Higgs (from Lungfish) sort of way (you know balding, thick beard, stocky build, look older than they are), it was his crazed conduct on stage that set the audience ill at ease.
Early on he began pulling the bricks normally used to secure drums from their spot at the back of the stage, and stacking them at the front to create his own rock n roll stonehenge (closer to 10" than 10'). Later he disappeared behind the stage to return with a folding conference table he set up directly in front of the stage as a sort of runway extension. No one was terribly surprised when near the end of the set he hung the mic stand in the ceiling tiles and sang the remainder of the song kneeling on the stage, neck upstretched to meet the inverted, hanging microphone.
The bold guitar work of Seth Jabour served as the perfect compliment to wild antics and vocal inflections of Harrington. His guitar would alternatively buzz, shriek or sing telling the fascinating stories the band demanding the audience participate in. His backing vocals created anthems out of the everyday. In total the band were indie rock saviors. They contained all the immediacy and energy of punk rock, combined it with the head of indie rock and gave it the soul of hardcore in a way that everyone should but so many don't. Vanessa told me a week or so ago that she was done with indie rock, that she was going to start going to more punk shows because they were real, because indie rock has become something it shouldn't have, something as stuffy and pretentious and defined as alternative became a decade ago and rock was buried under years previous. Les Savy Fav were the rebuttal to her argument and they won the debate that evening.