Driving up to Boston for a show has become pretty routine: four hours in a rental car, $7.30 in tolls, about $20 in gas, $4 in parking, and, on the way home, a high-stakes battle against sleep. No big deal. And while I, ostensibly, live in Chicago, it's certainly Boston where I feel at home. And it's Boston where I'm likely to run into friends and cohorts. I haven't spent enough time in Chicago to develop those comrades. That's something I plan to remedy if this crazy project in New England ever ends.
At 9:00pm I parked the tired Hyundai Accent in the Green Street Garage, pulled the hood of my jacket up around my head, and walked towards TTs. When I approached a full-size tour bus, I wondered – just for a minute – which band on the bill it might belong to. I quickly realized that it must be someone playing at The Middle East, but all the same when I opened the doors at TTs it seemed pretty full. Is it possible that Rob Crow is that popular? Does Geoff Farina have that many relatives? Nope. The queue in front of me was just confused teens looking for The Ataris show happening next door. Once they were redirected to The Middle East, I strode in to a mostly empty room. Various misfits, and no hipsters, clung to the periphery of the dark room. One sat on the floor reading by the pale green light that barely illuminates the far corner of the club. Having read by that same light, I know the exercise is largely futile – a shadow is cast by every passerby, causing the words on the page to fade into darkness.
At 9:15 the three members of Glorytellers walked onto the stage, and began what was only the band's fourth show. This isn't to say the members are green – vocalist, guitarist and frontman Geoff Farina has spent the last twenty years on a stage with Karate, The Secret Stars, and performing solo, guitarist Josh Larue (Mice Parade, Him) and touring drummer Gavin McCarthy (Karate) are similar veterans of our scene. Musically the band doesn't stray far from Farina's previous efforts – songs are pop affairs, generally slow and deliberate, steeped in singer-songwriter emotion, and finished with jazz or ragtime guitar flourishes. Farina's vocals carry the same conversational tone and repetitious cadence he has been known for (often chided for) throughout his career. As with his early solo material, his finger-picked acoustic guitar work is steady and comforting. The electric guitar of Larue provides accents that alternate between illustrative and distracting (I believe most of the Glorytellers songs were written before he joined the band). The soft, generally-brushed, percussive accents of McCarthy are similarly hit or miss. Each of the delicate instruments was occasionally drowned out by the pummeling rhythm section performing at the Middle East – one that was both heard, and felt, quite clearly at TTs.
Its unlikely that Glorytellers will achieve the sort of success that its players have seen before, but that isn't to say the band's music isn't endearing and warm. While I didn't opt to pick up the self-released CD being sold by the band, if Glorytellers next release is a fully collaborative effort featuring an integrated Larue, I will certainly hand my money over at that time.
After a long set from Glorytellers, and an equally long set change, Philadelphia's Genghis Tron, exploded into action. So what does a band named "Genghis Tron" sound like? Exactly like you should expect. The threesome combines the brutality of an invading Mongol horde with the electronic blippery and post-modern tension of the early 80s. In musical terms this means pre-programmed electronic beats – occasionally blast beats – augmented by Hamilton Jordan's over-the-top guitar that moves from shredding finger taps to sludgy Sabbath-styled grooves. Mookie Singerman's vocals are shrieked and unintelligible, but this is not all chaos. Songs may not have traditional song structures, but they do have distinct movements and shifts. Each of those changes is defined by the dual synth work of Singerman and Michael Sochynsky. These slower, electronic and atmospheric moments bring the band in the same league as innovators such as Dillinger Escape Plan, and have earned the band the attention of grindcore pioneers Relapse Records who will release the band's next album. And despite what might have initially appeared to be an odd bill, the spectacle of the band's performance (although more for its musical prowess than the band's showmanship), was more than enough to keep Rob Crow's audience interested. Then again, Rob Crow may have already primed his audience for Genghis Tron with his previous metal project Goblin Cock.
For those not in the know, Rob Crow is a multi-instrumentalist, and musical genius, who, generally, writes warm and simple pop songs, and performs them in the most disjointed and convoluted ways possible. Everything is familiar, but disjointed and asynchronous. His career has spanned fifteen years and nearly as many projects. He is currently touring in support of his new solo album entitled Living Well, and as such performed ten songs from that album along with four tracks from his previous album, a medley of songs from his first album (including my favourite "Speedy Delivery"), an unreleased song, a Brian Eno cover of "Here Come the Warm Jets" (introduced as "Here Come the Hot Pockets") and then a surprising host of songs from his early days in Heavy Vegetable beginning with my favourite, "Song for Wesley."
For the majority of the set, Crow was joined on stage by another guitarist, a drummer, a bass player, and occasionally a keyboardist. However for his encore, a tired Crow returned to the stage alone, and, after warning the audience he was risking an embolism, ran through two sincere, although irreverent, covers: "Astro Zombies" by The Misfits, and "Minor Threat" by Minor Threat. Both songs featured Rob Crow's ever-present ringing Gibson SG and his hushed rounded voice. Even when backed by a full band, those characteristics are dominating, and thoughtfully picked up by the rest of the band. Instead of the synthesized keyboards of Genghis Tron, Rob Crow utilizes simple piano tones. Drums plod nicely, but never reach, and both bass and guitar remain calm, allowing the comforting songs to shine through. This is something that Crow was never at ease with earlier in his career, but now his sheen approaches that of Ben Lee or even Ron Sexsmith. Is this the result of becoming a father? Is this maturity? I don't know.
When all was done, the room cleared out quickly. The secret of Rob Crow remained safely in the hearts of those forty fans who came out to TT the Bear's, and despite Rob Crow's recent surrender into his own pleasant pop world, I'm pretty sure there will be no tour bus present at his next solo performance.