Riff Raff: The Louis XIV Steady Almost Killed Me




Louis XIV
Irving Plaza
1 September 2005

Finding Out That True Love Is Blind

From: Jason Hill <>
To: Nick Pitchfork <>
Date: Mar 30, 2005 11:08 PM
Subject: Hello

First off, spell the mans name right, its BOLAN. Second,  your article was written like a third graders, you’ll notice I manage to say a lot on my records while still sounding like a gentleman.  Your language is moronic. Thirdly, try talking about our music next time and whether or not you like it its fine but when you attack me personally you better be ready for me to put my fucking fist down your throat. Come see me and we shall see who’s spineless. All my best, Jason Staehler HIll

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Get It On

Nobody was attacked personally. I don’t know Hill, don’t profess to, and if he couldn’t handle my roundabout way of saying I think his band is destroying rock music, whose fault is that.

Some cats take hard lines on misogyny and racism and violence–if it’s there, they’re not–but (again) I like to admit the possibility that great technique or cleverness or Some Larger Point can come close to exonerating it. Problems come when we’re decades into a genre, and the genre accrues a symbology, and suddenly a genre’s not without its sine non quas, however culturally irresponsible they can get.

Louis XIV work with rock’s well-storied sex-talk tropes, and I have no problem with that. What bothers me about them on record, they’re so artless about it, no interest in finesse, merely phoning in as if “show me some tit” is just something that’s expected out of them. No interest in surprising us, or even shocking us. They’re young dudes jiving old dude slang; vaginas are “beavers”, dicks “jimmies”, and even then their quacks aren’t quaint enough for that to be a thing.

Bang A Gong

And really, if The Best Little Secrets Are Kept went further lyrically, I would give the music more credit in that playing with genre sorta way. Because face it: These songs are expert reproductions of great classic rock moments. Hill knows Bolan and Bowie and the Stones guys pretty damn intimately–not necessarily their swagger, but certainly what makes their songs pop. Not to give anyone too much or too little credit, but Hill reminds me a lot of Wynton Marsalis in that respect–both have the ears and chops for masterful imitations, and I can’t speak too definitively of Hill, but both have pretty firm ideas of how their genres Should Be–structured, obedient to set forms and signifiers and symbologies, inevitably reverent and deferent to some Golden Age streak when their music was at once extremely powerful, extremely naive and primal, so clear-throated and simple yet so rich with possibilities. Something like that.

Hey, classic rock, generally speaking, is powerful stuff ipso facto. But playing the stuff straight, evoking its nostalgia and cultural baggage without a hitch, to me seems like profiteering, however expertly played. It’s been thirty years since Electric Warrior–am I wrong to expect a twist?

Louis and Jet and a bunch other rock fascists aren’t the enemy. But leave me in front of a computer for a while and I’ll inevitably worry about media-driven feedback loop: What sells is what people are familiar with, and so on, until eventually we even drop the facade of The New (which despite it all sometimes ends up being more than facade) and are imprisoned by the past. Not to get too worked up, but this is heavy stuff.

Come On And Roll Over: Preamble

After nearly two weeks of me haranguing, eight hours before the show the band’s publicity guy finally ok’d coverage. Tickets were messengered over to Cooper Square, and inside the package were hard tix and two red Louis XIV VIP passes.

Now OK. Obviously I wore the VIP pass. When I tried to enter though, the security guard said he’d never even seen anything like it. Inside I noticed a bunch of people with VIP stickers on their shirts, but curiously nobody had the same pass I did. It took about ten minutes for me to realize I was maybe the only person in the goddamn venue wearing the red pass. Call me spineless, nervous, or a bit egotistical, but I decided to take it off and not, as someone suspiciously suggested, “hang out with the band.”

Dominique’s Gone

However irreverent the songs may be, this band’s pretty damn polite on stage. Very reserved, very thankful, no rock posing or dick swinging or racy bantering. Are they playing off their namesake’s regal demeanor? Maybe, though Franz make more of a noticeable thing out of it; this was something else. They’re not shocked or even tickled by their song’s content–this is just how things are, to them. They’re concentrating, really, respecting their own songs–so much that they’d be really bummed if they flubbed just one note.

Louis XIV clearly have faith in their compositions, as they should. Hill’s a bad-ass guitarist too, in extreme control of his no-nonsense solos and turning in one killer slide guitar performance on pre-Illegal Tender song “The Hunt.” But again, the band’s all business–this is a job, and hard work, to reproduce these songs live. All three buttons on their suit jackets are buttoned. No one would know Hill and Brian Karscig switch up vocal duties on “A Letter To Dominique” without the visual–their voices aren’t similar so much as both set on imitating some third party, and they clearly are accomplishing that. When someone throws a towel at Hill’s fretboard, he jumps a little, and quickly tries to regain his concentration. I don’t feel like T. Rex or the Kinks or even the Beatles were this meticulous live.

Jonathan Perry says:

The band’s saucy smash single, ”Finding Out True Love Is Blind,” an ode to perpetual lust and potential conquests, came appropriately late in the set like delayed gratification. Although the blatant T. Rextasy of ”Letter to Dominique” veered perilously close to plagiarism, thanks to multi-instrumentalist Jason Hill’s gnome-like trill of a voice, and the rattlesnake rumble of ”Illegal Tender” was basically a rewrite of Bowie’s ”Jean Genie,” no one really seemed to mind. They were too busy shaking their hips.

Dominique’s Back

Dominique Leone wrote a piece about the Led Zeppelin live album How the West Was Won a while back, and these two grafs quoted below seem relevant:

Led Zeppelin, authors of the most-played-song-in-radio-history and so many hallowed riffs and sexual double-entendres involving fruit, are so played-out at this point that they’ve managed to become taken for granted. Nobody blinks an eye when “Rock and Roll” shows up in a car commercial, because the band’s music has long since become a pop-culture building block. Most of their big tunes are recognizable to the point of losing their emotional impact– think, haven’t you heard enough of “Whole Lotta Love”, “Black Dog” and “Kashmir”? And I might give a month off the end of my life to be spared from ever crossing paths with “Stairway to Heaven” again. Sure, Zep is great, but their classic-rock staples have been burnt into our minds– each song exactly the same every time we hear it– as unchanging musical patterns, and made predictable by force of infinite repetition. By now I’d think I’d have gleaned about as much pleasure from their music as I possibly could.

Still, one thing that always strikes me about all of their music– particularly their first five or six records– is how effortless they made it all seem. Classic riffs seem like grade school basics now, but Page actually had to come up with all that stuff. And if you listen really close, those guys were doing more than just banging out the blues– they brought out the best of a British take on rock, via funky, surprisingly accomplished arrangements and song forms, and a very potent eclecticism rarely found in bands that cracked the mainstream (much less reigned over it). And yet, none of those credentials really make me want to hear “The Battle of Evermore” again. So what’s next?

Which Is To Say

I can’t help but feel there’s some of this Led Zeppelin effect at work in Louis XIV’s music–why it’s so appealing initially, and why ultimately it doesn’t stick, at least for me. These are catchy songs, but Louis don’t play them so much as reproduce them–with quite some rigor. That extra step’s palpable too, even more so live given how disconnected the band was from their own music. Everything’s there, except just one thing.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 2, 2005

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