You’re gonna have to trust me that’s Fiona
Q And Not U
Weening myself off the 10 concert-a-day habit from CMJ, last night I settled for two. Had never seen Fiona live, never really gave her older records or videos much of a chance either because they came out during my all jazz, no MTV phase. I remember hearing the Fiona interview on Stern, which rivals his Wesley Willis interview and just barely doesn’t beat out his Adam West one. But still, haven’t heard the Extraordinary Machine leaks and haven’t heard “Criminal,” unless it’s an unsmooth meta-cover of Alien Ant Farm’s “Smooth Criminal.”
But I get it now. Maybe it’s the jazz, but in front of Brion on acoustic guitar and Elizondo on upright (an awkward line-up, considering), for me she stuck low like a smokier Sarah Vaughan, her vibratos shrill and last-second and just enough. That was “Extraordinary Machine,” which went off w/o nerves or hitch, despite the retarded buzz of camera shutter flickers that coursed the spare song. Thirty-minute delays can do that to photographers, my guess; said Fiona, “I don’t think I would have come and waited for anyone.”
She gets weird alone behind the piano. Clenches up, drops the pedigree’d vox, now all blues rock idiot savant. What she loses in sing-slick for “Oh Sailor” though goes to her fingers, so much expression out of that box. She’d get canned from Juilliard for such balladry, no restraint, but I had one of those go-cold moments a la Stevie Wonder’s “If You Really Love Me,” so OK. Can’t condone the crowd singing along (this shit has to stop), but a few times when Fiona lost her spot (a put-on?), they amped up and got her back on.
Can we talk about how fucking silly and great Jon Brion is? The green party shirt, the heavy foot tap to keep Elizondo abreast of his rubatos, the generous showboating that somehow never put off, the rock to Fiona’s hard place–from afar he looked the mentor slash manager slash best friend part; Elizondo just seemed sheepish in contrast. I know Brion and Apple have the Largo history and Elizondo’s a new add to the live show, but given all the Merely Ordinary Machine blabber w/r/t Fiona not digging Brion’s work on the early version of EM, body language contradicted. Just saying!
Q And Not U Download: “Wonderful People”
Status ripped it for Supersystem, so I took Q And Not U exclusively. Thought there’d be more to say about this show, but there wasn’t, to be honest: The band’s breaking up after a five-year run of no standouts but three albums worth of pretty good songs, and this is, like most DC punk bands do apparently, their extended final tour.
My history with Q And Not U involves a series of miscommunications, not the least of which was booking them for a Lampoon concert that fell through on my end, not the most of which was angling my review of their less percussion-heavy Power LP entirely on drummer John Davis’s broken foot (“The drumming’s much more sparse, perhaps because…”). I’d like to piss off more about Davis talking to me for a half-hour about his goddamn wedding instead of telling me about the band’s break-up plans which they announced a few days after my interview went up, but I guess I understand the hesitance.
Guitarist-bassist-vox Chris Richards spent much of his tween banter (which ain’t much, since the band goes jam into jam) talking about things he’s learned from playing in the band: “Dance with your hips, not your shoulders,” that stuck. True, and that’s why the Knit’s bass-saturated, no guitars, no fun sound really killed the night for me. Over the years QANU have rivaled even Les Savy Fav for explosiveness, which says something about band energy since QANU have no Harrington to them. Maybe my ears are burned out? “Line In The Sand” came close to working, but without thick mids the guitar feels faint, chicken scratch, and who even knows if the drums were mic’d.
QANU’s music has never been directly political, since Harris Klahr takes more of a fragmented approach to the pen. That way the songs last past the election, or something. But I think there’s more here. Consider this: No Kill No Beep Beep, their debut, hit October 24, 2000, just a few weeks before Bush took office. The record owed more to their Dischord roots, distinctly angular, and more than the rest of their shit, the songs had a glimmer to them, a hope and a relatively positive nature. The funk and clap hands breakdown of “A Line In The Sand,” to go back to that, speaks much to the whole album’s M.O., aware of impending circumstances, harsh to the reflection, but entirely packed and unprocessed, Pandora acknowledged but left to tease. Let’s operate from the fast songs=more fun, slow songs=more worried angle; at the time this band wasn’t for brooding.
Bush wins, two years in the band starts doing just that. The band dropped their bassist, and while the songs on Different Damage had more going on in them, shit, they were better songs, but a billion things seemed to weigh down on the band now. Compare openers: “Soft Pyramids” had precious appeal, quiet, mystery-on-sleeve, and noticeably more subdued, quite a statement to make after developing a vicious live reputation.
Last CMJ I hung out outside Arlene’s Grocery talking to Chris and John about their new record Power LP. Like No Kill No Beep Beep would be released a few weeks before the 2004 election. Swearing this one’s not overtly political, they veered the talk into old bands they dig (they’d been flagged for jumping on the dance-punk train late) and backstories to their new songs, but always defining them negatively: “This is not a critique of the Bush regime,” “this is not a gov song,” etc. Power had more variety, took more chances, but weirdly they seemed most at home on their slower, more somber ones, such as “District Night Prayer.” The “fun” #s worked but, next to their back catalog stuff, felt pro forma.
Catholic cats will run down the “no, there are four types of prayer” line they learned in eighth grade, but let’s lapse: Most people pray when shit’s out of your control, irreparably bad looks. Votive prayer implicitly acknowledges impossibility. So QANU bailing now strikes me not as reflective but at least somewhat refractive, their run coinciding with some pretty shitty years in DC and elsewhere and ultimately brought to a halt in light of circumstances. Time to pursue other projects, new avenues, get married, new musical escapism, start anew since this one’s been worn down too hard. DC bands break up more quickly than others, it seems; the burden of politics (and the rich band parents involved in them, so adolescent rebellion has more symbolic implications), the permanent fodder, and the inevitable submission to them–not their fault entirely, but you can imagine how thin QANU’s encore felt.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 21, 2005