By Michael Atkinson
By Luke Winkie
By Steve Weinstein
By Brian McManus
By Brian McManus
By Dan McQuade
By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
Warpaint live is a disconcerting experience. They're smiling! The bass player is dancing (and wearing overalls)! People in the crowd are dancing! There's a crowd at all! You're not alone in your bedroom, curled up in the fetal position, bawling uncontrollably! The all-female L.A. quartet generally seems built for solitude—for abject 4 a.m. dark-night-of-the-soul solo wallowing. Their stupendous debut full-length, The Fool, triangulates Moon Pix–era Cat Power's ghostly, morbid, gorgeous bedroom folk with the Slits' lithe, muscular post-punk, but onstage at the Webster Hall Studio Wednesday night, the latter style dominates, thanks mostly to drummer Stella Mozgawa, a dervish of brash snare cracks, liquid drum rolls, emphatic soundman-hailing gestures, and rampant giggling. Everybody uncurl, stop bawling, and get ahold of yourselves.
On The Fool, breathy, mournful voices dart at you from everywhere, an omniscient and anonymous Greek chorus of woe, but live it's slightly more linear, Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal trading off jagged guitar lines and forceful lead vocals: "How can I keep my composure?" howls the latter; "Why can't I just get it together?" laments the former; "You could have been my king," they note in unison. Whereas the quietest, least audacious songs hit hardest through headphones—the devastated, uncomfortably intimate acoustic-guitar waltz "Baby," say, or the particularly Cat Power–indebted "Billie Holiday," off last year's Exquisite Corpse EP, wherein they spell out Billie's name for the chorus (B-I-L-L-IIIIIII-E H-O-L-I-D-A-YYYYYYYY) and refashion the lyrics to "My Guy" into a tearful eulogy—neither show up in the set list tonight. Too emo, too insular.
Instead, Mozgawa and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg keep things from wallowing with a rumbling, constantly shifting, surprisingly loud Public Image Ltd. sort of menace, brittle and ominous. The best songs tonight are wracked with tempo-altering mood swings, several top-shelf Cure riffs fused together, "Composure" opening with another funereal waltz but speeding up into a percussive Bloc Party jam, "Beetles" veering back and forth between a shuffle and a sprint. There's a lightness, a glee, to even their darkest odes to abandonment and alienation, their goofy between-song banter further lightening the mood ("This song's called 'Set Your Arms Down,' bitch," or maybe it's "This song's called 'Set Your Arms Down, Bitch' "). The crowd hoots at every bombastic drum break, and there are plenty to hoot at. It's startling to watch people enjoying themselves while playing these songs, and watching people in the crowd enjoy them. It's also a relief.
Sunday night, it's time for something slightly different: Hall & Oates at Beacon Theatre. Yeah, that's right. Chortle all you want, but this show starts with "Maneater" (featuring a lengthy sax solo from an older, bespectacled gentleman in a purple suit and hair halfway down his back) and ends with "Jingle Bell Rock," which is also pretty great, and I hate "Jingle Bell Rock."
Daryl Hall and John Oates are both still looking fabulous, in case you were concerned, the former clad in a leather jacket and forbidding sunglasses and a generally aloof air, contributing to the feeling you get just looking at them that one of Oates's jobs is to be there in case someone needs to bail Hall out of jail. Tonight is a Yacht Rock Greatest Hits spectacular, no new album to flog (just a retrospective box set and a New Year's Eve TV show they're doing on cable, which Hall promotes by crowing, "Instead of watching the ball drop, you can watch my balls drop"), and thus crowd-pleasing from beginning to end, if you're willing to assume the crowd really wanted to hear "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." Their backing band is slick and accomplished and sufficiently mired in luxury to be able to afford to pay one guy to spend 80 percent of his time just shaking two tambourines simultaneously. It's weird, but most of the crowd stays seated and jumps collectively to its feet only after each song ends, like an endless stream of Broadway standing O's, until we get to "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)," at which point, well, enough with the sitting down.
During a sequence of quiet-storm, dual-falsetto ballads ("She's Gone," "Sara Smile," etc.), it's suddenly evident how much of Flight of the Conchords' affable-sensitive-guy shtick originated here, and how closely H&O actually resemble Steely Dan, except they're smiling, not smirking. Plus it's hard to imagine the Dan wrapping up the set with three straight Christmas songs—the first encore is a "Rich Girl"/"Kiss on My List"/"You Make My Dreams" wrecking ball, which renders the second encore both anticlimactic and yet still remarkably festive: Robbie Robertson's "Christmas Must Be Tonight" (why not?), "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" (they added a chorus!), and the aforementioned, generally execrable "Jingle Bell Rock," which gets over here thanks to the previous 90 minutes' tremendous storehouse of goodwill. Hall at several points introduces a particularly shopworn song with some variation of "We've played this thousands and thousands of times now, but I still really like it," and this, improbably, seems to be true. Go ahead, then, dudes: Write a chorus into any Christmas carol you want.