Frank Black, still alive. (courtesy Newsday)
Pixies, Gang of Four and Friends
Across the Narrows
Keyspan Park, Coney Island
First Things First
Believe it: Gang of Four Attack Taxi Driver
Where Is My Mind?
No press tent to be found–in the stands I saw a sign that read “HESS” but this was hardly the wireless/free Amstel light hotspot I was expecting–I sacked up right between the two curly-haired kids punching each other “for fun” during the Mando Diao set. From Sweden, Diao do bloozy garage rock the way it was intended: tucked-in shirts, pretty hair, and matching black leather jackets, a kid on keys who keeps standing up so his parents can see him, lots of sincere thank-yous, utter clarity betwixt: “This is a song about love between a man and woman.” Well goddamn, I thought it was about fucking.
It’s 3pm. Hey, I like these guys more than I thought I would, and my tickle’s hardly pickled when Mr. Mando, because he’s in Brooklyn, dedicates his next song to Mr. Russell Jones, a special person the crowd knows by every other name but his real one. But it’s loud too. No way am I killing cilia for these guys, I plug my ears, and all of the sudden seemingly every asshole who’s ever worn a t-shirt for a hat comes over to mock me, call me a pussy, point at me then point at their “YOU’RE A PUSSY” shirts a point later. Wait, I missed my high school reunion for this shit?
After Diao a guy selling warm beers yelled, “Beer! Water!” Next to me, someone explains to his friend: “Beer? Water? Tobacco? That’s like the Bible of my life!”
Built to Suck
I never expected Built to Spill to go over live particularly well–all the songs have the same mid-tempo swamp-thwomp, only compelling in that Doug Martsch has a beard, indie blase sort of way. And I like Built to Spill plenty enough. But holy shit, how uninspired–how anti-inspired. They played the songs as if the songs were no longer theirs to play–if something stuck, blame nostalgia. Lots stuck, sure: On the subway back I heard people talking about how “transcendent” everything was. What? “Center of the Universe” still sounds fine I guess. At least the man who was cuddling with his girlfriend during the song, then started playing her sides like bongo drums, then pulled the g-string out her pants and plucked it like an upright bass, thought so.
Oh, OK, That’s Why People Like Rilo Kiley
They have Christgau’s blessing, one of the few bands he’s spilt more than Consumer Guide ink over here. My friend Colin’s brother liked them too. I don’t know, from afar Rilo Kiley strike me as a bit OMR/old man rock, from the no-shock progressions to Jenny Lewis’s gorgeous old man country voice and her old man Wurlitzer, the kind of electric piano my grandfather played.
I like them though. Lewis I thought would dominate more, but she stayed low-key, more a band member than a diva. Never made the Black Soper=Blake Sennett=Joey from Boy Meets World=brilliant guitarist for Rilo Kiley, so maybe that’s why I felt like he ran their show, keeping the ballads on needles with clean staccato, busting out Verlaine when his bandmates weren’t looking. Because really everything else (except maybe the lyrics, which I guess are ahem more adventurous) is pretty damn straightforward. No surprise Coldplay asked them to open their tour, though frustratingly no surprise Lewis said their Chris Martin-less, well-knownless Across the Narrows appearance was “wayy wayy better already” than their dates with Coldplay. I don’t know why that irked me more than the kid who yelled at Lewis “Suck my dick!” because “she probably gets off on it”; it’s not like they were performing for free in the back of a U-Haul truck.
What Gang of Four Sound Like
“Kinda like, Franz-like.”
“I was good at what I did.”
Apparently some people are too cool for Gang of Four–what? “You can take Gang of Four, I don’t care,” Status said to me when we divvied all these shows up. “Yeah, you heard me, fuck those guys.”
Enough people, especially us kids who didn’t ever think we’d see live the band responsible for the bands responsible for our favorite records, have talked about how well Gang of Four still hold up in concert, how they haven’t skipped a beat, how they are exactly ten million times better than the Freddie Hubbard reunion, etc. All true, though I don’t think anyone’s articulated how vox Jon King has turned his age into an asset. His shirt one-buttoned, he frog-leaps across stage, blank stares, and rattles off derelict truths like a bum who’s stormed our favorite bar, ruined our dates with his apocalyptic prophecies. Most times we don’t listen to the bum, but we had the good fortune of paying King upfront, knowing we should pay him attention further.
Let’s not beleaguer, but when the Olivia Tremor Control and the NY Dolls and Freddie Hubbard and the Stones and whoever else reunite, it’s pleasant and fun but never necessary, never makes sense exactly. Gang of Four all went their separate ways, all have successful careers post-GO4 more or less, but given the climate–of everything! political, ecological, social, woof–their return feels like something more–as if we need them at this very point in time, didn’t learn their lesson the first time. On stage King destroyed a television with deliberate swings of a bat while people cheered him on and laughed the one time he missed the box. We clapped for “To Hell With Poverty,” and he came back out for another, but I don’t think he was happy to see us.