Live: Art Brut Says You Should Listen to the Hold Steady
No, he doesn't have a mustache anymore.
Art Brut at Studio B Date: Wednesday, April 18 Opener: O'Death (I missed them) Rating: 7.9
Hate to take a mirror to this Web-only real-life-show report and reflect it back to this reckless digital space, but it's nearly impossible to consider Art Brut's live show last night at Studio B without noting that the Internet was present — invisible perhaps, but itching from somewhere beyond like a phantom limb.
How else would we all have known the opener, "Pump Up the Volume," and been able to sing along with a wincingly familiar line (at least to anybody who's ever made a crush wait while you engineered an iTunes playlist — cough — sorry, J), "I know I shouldn't/And it's possibly wrong/To break from your kiss/To turn up a pop song?" And why else would someone shout, "How much does mastering matter?" when frontman Eddie Argos randomly solicited questions. If you didn't have a right-click trigger finger, you must've been confused.
A refresher: earlier this month, the PR people for this "meta-punk-rock" five-piece pre-released five songs, a 4545454545% preview of Art Brut's upcoming June release It's a Bit Complicated. (Download here.) The caveat? These early versions were "unmastered." There're any number of theories about why Downtown would do this and still hope to make money on their investment: a preemptive strike against another Ys incident; testing the hypothesis that if you're nerdy enough to be on the leak tip, you're gonna want the real things when they become available; hoping that some new material will help sell out all Art Brut's scheduled US shows; thinking that giving away a bite makes people less hungry; licensing potential; er, goodwill?
With a vehemently self-aware band like this, I'm gonna say that incentive doesn't matter. What does is that we fell for it. I ended up small-talking with a few people standing beside me who turned out to be college pals with Threadster. One of them was like, "Hey, Art Brut have five free new songs on the Internet, you should download them." And I was like, "Um, yeah, I spent the day with them on repeat," and him being like, "Me too!" We, like, temporarily bonded over the sort of old-school concert preparation that technology has made less embarrassing then back in high school when you used to blast the band you're about to see on your car stereo en route to the show and forget to turn it off and having everybody sneer, all like, Ugh, what're you, a Parrothead?
But having already digested some of the new record's jokes made the one-liners we were hearing for the first time all the more sweeter. Most notably, the best break-up line I've heard this week from "People in Love," purportedly track 4 from It's a Bit Complicated: "People in love sit around and get fat/I didn't want us to end up like that." (I might be misquoting the initial verb/adverb-combo here, so it could be "lay around" or something, but the incision is just as deep.) Also, another thing I didn't know from the Internet. . . Argos has shifted his usual "Emily Kane" repartee: stopping the song midstream to explain that the tune's not about the specifics of Argos being in love with an ex-girlfriend named Emily Kane, but being 15 and being in love with being in love. Now he just stops the song midstream to explain that he used to stop it midstream to tell people to forget about their exes, but now he's changed his mind and his only message is that you should never listen to be people in bands. Except the Hold Steady and the Mountain Goats. Yeah, that's what he said.
Of course, there were the expected tracks, songs available in other places besides the Web: "Good Weekend," "Moving to LA," "My Little Brother." But I still don't think this band could've sold out the Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday and then played a pretty packed early set at Studio B on Wednesday without the Internet. It's not that they wouldn't have had the promotional channels fifteen years ago — perhaps true, but that discussion's about twenty books and seven years moldy — but rather that they wouldn't have the context. They are a band that's so self-referential, so unpretentious about pretentiousness, yadda yadda, that without hypertext's endlessly reflective connections, they'd be, I dunno, a Brit-punk version of Witch's Hat, a self-parody of self-parody that turns into suck-parody. How's that for meta. Not very?
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Previous experience: The Internet. Personal bias: The Internet.
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