Sunday May 5th, 2002 at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Les Savy Fav, 764-HERO, & Santo Gold.
When midwestern thunderstorms are rolling in, and the drive is timed just right, the bands are really the superfluous part of a trip to The Bottleneck. There wasnt really a way they could compete with the repeated lightening strikes that defined the visual portion of my drives entertainment. And although Hefners new album began the trip, it wasnt until the CD player switched and Mithotyn began that the proper soundtrack for blowing winds, ominous skies, and brilliant flashes of light was realized.
Of course there was to be competition Bob Moulds "Sound and Light Spectacular" were headlining The Granada along with Her Space Holiday. On any other night Id be there. At the 8th St. Taproom namelessnumberheadman were set to engage along with Ira. On any other night Id be there. At the Bottleneck however is Les Savy Fav. Les Savy Fav with 764-HERO. Les Savy Fav with 764-HERO and Santo Gold. On this night, Im there.
I called the club around 8pm to find out when the show was going to start and to confirm the line up. I was told doors were already open and Santo Gold would be playing at 9pm. At 9pm I walked into the club and the band were on stage; it's all in the timing. Of course what I didnt realize is that this was simply the soundcheck and all my camera prep and earplugging must have seemed mighty extreme for a show that wouldnt start for another seventy-five minutes. Timing 1. Sid 0.
When Santo Gold did take the stage they casually ripped through an eight-song set in under twenty minutes. Wiry intertwined guitars, driving drums and constantly mutating bass lines define the bands songs with Kelseys high voice jabbing into the music at all opportune times. Like the evenings headliner, Santo Gold are from a post-punk school were rejecting the musical status quo wasnt about mohawks or a safety pin in your nose, but about reworking the nature of rock music entirely. Kindred spirits such as Gang of Four and Wire were born twenty-five years before, but the angular expressionism and intelligent rebellion are very much alive in Lawrence Kansas.
In the case of 764-HERO rebellion has taken a different path. Once a quiet guitar/drums duo from Washington State, the band are now a threesome who are concerned instead with producing an emotional indie rock that is heavy on the rock. No chance of hearing my favourite song from the bands debut, but instead of crying about it, I find it easier to pretend this is a different band altogether. This new 764-HERO produces music that is pleasantly heady indie rock. It is unfortunately sadly nothing of consequence after all is written and done. However, its ingredients are somewhat intriguing. Indulge me:
Vocalist John Atkins is a rhythm guitarist to a fault. Drummer Polly Johnson is herself nothing flashy. While this combination can make for some lovely slo-core (as illustrated by the bands early work) it does leave the band lacking in the "catchy hook" and "live rock show" departments. To remedy this they added bassist James Bertram from Red Stars Theory until musical differences set in and he was replaced with current bassist Robin Peringer. Peringers priors are too numerable to list, but if he looks familiar you probably saw him touring as the second guitarist in Modest Mouse.
Now to the point, Peringers bass lines are curious in that they generally reside in the higher registers reserved for guitar. Unlike other bass players who attempt to play four-stringed guitar, he avoids strummed chords and instead bounds through the notes more like Bruce Foxton, from the Jam. Additionally Peringers lines often carry (or create) the melody to songs while the guitar simply keeps the pace. Quite backward from "how its supposed to be done". Once blended the result is unfortunately a sound much like other bands in the same space. It does make a fun side note though.
Now, Les Savy Fav. During 764-HERO, the less enthused scurried back to their drinks and tables only to return in droves to the front of the stage as Les Savy Fav completed their set up. I joined the audience and listened intently to their conversations. There was an overriding sort of anxiousness for the band. Surely some of that stemmed from simple anticipation, but some of it seemed to be born of apprehension. The excitement in the crowd came from first-timers not sure what to expect (but having heard rumours from their hipper friends), hipsters ready to prove they could hang with a mad man that doesnt allow for passive observance, and those in the middle majority who simply came to be entertained by a band who creates great music and presents it just as well live.
Attempting to write about Les Savy Favs live show is largely pointless; one of those few times that writing about music is truly like dancing about architecture. The complex starts and stops and songs without structure are only the prelude to the real story. Although competing (and winning by my count) with The Dismemberment Plan for quirky points is surely an accomplishment in itself, its really the stage show where Les Savy Fav comes alive. To be specific, its the padded room where vocalist Tim Harrington lives.
Harrington is unnerving and wittier than we are. He knows it and so do we. So were willing (to a point) to let him run with it. And run with it he does: through dance moves that neither Calvin Johnson nor David Bryne could endorse; through pirate and cowboy costumes; through audience interaction that may be as unobtrusive as intently singing into an audience members face from only inches away, or running about the audience capturing all in a lasso of microphone cables, or going as far as to tie himself to an audience member and complete the song with that cargo lashed to his back. There is really no end to what Harrington is might decide do, but unlike the GG Allin shock-rock hacks, Harrington is supremely funny and honest about it all. There really cant be enough good things said about Les Savy Fav live.
While the audience called out intently for an encore, none was delivered and I slipped out of the club towards the Taproom in hope (and in vain) of catching namelessnumberheadmans finale. Although the bar had finished cleaning and the bands were already flying to their next stop in beat up vans, it didnt much matter less time at shows means more time for Dunkin Donuts.