Live: Art Brut/White Rabbits at Highline Ballroom, 07.09.07
Minor problem: camera ran out of batteries when Argos let his fat flag fly. Photo by Cami D
Art Brut/White Rabbits Highline Ballroom July 9, 2007
By David Marchese
About halfway into last night's set, Eddie Argos unbuttoned his shirt and let his fat flag fly. Jelly bellies have a certain appeal in their own right, but the best thing about Argos' skinshow was its matter-of-factness. On a hellishly hot night, when being onstage probably felt like being stuck inside a piece of spanakopita, there was no Les Savy Fav sense of confrontation about Argos' gelatinous display, no Craig Finn intimations of normalcy. In a way, the act laid bare some of the secret to Mr. A's onstage awesomeness: what you see is what you get. For all the insecurity of his songs' lyrics, our man Eddie has the charisma and confidence of a born performer.
A born wiseacre too. Argos' ability to imbue Art Brut's songs of excruciating geekiness with something approaching riotous glee is what gets the band over live. On record, particularly on the new, "It's a Bit Complicated," Art Brut are a tight little machine, all spiky riffs, straight-ahead drumming and bratty unsung vocals. Last night though, the band's edges were blurred, with too many songs mashing together into a barren chord haze. When the two guitars/bass/drums momentarily wrestled attention away from Argos with honest-to-goodness hooks—e.g. the ones on "Emily Kane" or "Post Soothing Out"—it only underlined how important the impressively eyebrow'd frontman is the rest of the time, when the hooks aren’t catching. With his unabashedly awkward physicality—he didn't stagedive so much as stagefall—and gifted with a comic's timing, Argos was capable of holding the crowd in sway despite some seriously dodgy music. Simply put, Art Brut's songs need Argos a lot more than he needs them.
Opening act White Rabbits gave off almost the exact opposite vibe as Art Brut—boring show, good music. On the basis of a half-hearted listen to "Fort Nightly," I'd written the Blanc Bunnies off as a Specials-gone-prog curio. Yesterday though, the trebly, rhythm-heavy and vaguely Caribbean honky pop the band bounced off the walls worked as music in ways Art Brut's remedial riffing didn't. Bonus points too for the sub-Waits fedora and ratty sport coat combo worn by the vox/keybs player. The bit of Depression-era flair brought some much needed grit to the venue's vapid prettiness. (The Highline Ballroom is the Sienna Miller of rock clubs. Discuss.)
But a rakishly tilted chapeau could hardly compare to Art Brut's blubber. Compete with a man sporting a medium-sized muffintop who stalks the stage whinging charmingly about his sexual dysfunction and you will always lose. Unfortunately, the same rule applies to backing bands. Art Brut? Try Eddie and the Argonauts.
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