Art Brut + Psychic Ills + Mike Wexler
November 10, 2005
I like the Maximo Bloc Futureheads just as much as the next dude, but this newest wave of new wave is a bit too calculated and practiced to really wreck me. Guitars jerk and Cockney voices honk and drums play the disco-cymbal pattern really fast, but these baby-Franz bands always come off just a little too fussy, too concerned with lapel-width and guitar tone to spin out of control and explode. It didn’t help anything that Bloc Party, the only one of these bands I’d seen live before last night, was wicked boring. So it shouldn’t be all that surprising that the only one of these bands I’ve yet loved is Art Brut. The band’s unschooled racket and Eddie Argos’s nasally declamatory comic-rock steez paint the band as a spiritual cousin of the Hold Steady, mid-20s and British instead of mid-30s and Midwestern, coke (or maybe booze) (or maybe youthful enthusiasm) instead of booze, Television Personalities and the Fall instead of Springsteen and the Replacements. And that riotously cocky abandon, combined with pictures of a sweat-soaked Argos charging through audiences, made me think I’d be getting a British Minor Threat or something when the band made its NYC debut at the Mercury Lounge last night.
Not quite. When Art Brut first came onstage, starting out “Formed a Band” with the riff from “Back in Black,” the band actually sounded slicker and more professional than it does on record. Maybe it was just NY-debut nerves; the band got looser as it played longer, and the band really hit its simplistically jagged candy-punk stride around the time Argos loosened his tie and dropped his jacket, about ten minutes into the set. Phew. The band only has one song with a bona fide monster hook (“Good Weekend”), but shouty exuberance goes further than hooks ever could in small, packed clubs, and we have to give a band some slack when they play an unfinished song that they wrote on the plane ride to the US.
And it doesn’t hurt anything that the people in Art Brut do not seem especially cool. The band’s only good-looking dude is guitarist Jasper Future, and he just joined (bassist Freddy Feedback is pretty, but she’s not a dude). Two people in the band have anime hair. And then there’s Argos, a classic ham of a frontman, a doughy ball of goofy, waterlogged charisma behind a John Waters mustache. Argos looks something like a drag king (or, according to Ryan Dombal, Matt Dillon in There’s Something About Mary), and he’s self-deprecating enough to change the lyrics to his erectile-dysfunction song to make them even more obvious. He’s a bizarre combination of smarmy British talk-show host and smart-ass teenage pop-punk singer; he told the crowd that he’d be coming back to Manhattan, finding all of us individually: “I will ask you if you are in a band, and if you say no, I will be very, very disappointed it you!” I really like this guy.
I don’t know who booked the show, but the idea seemed to be to make Art Brut seem even jumpier and more energetic by having two sleepy, psychedelic trance-rock bands open for them. I liked the gothy, hypnotically-detuned acoustic guy Mike Wexler and diffuse, squalling space-throbbers Psychic Ills just fine, but they were in the wrong place. Test Icicles are opening for Art Brut at Northsix tonight, and that’ll work a lot better, even though Test Icicles are terrible.
In other news, I acted in a White Stripes video a few weeks ago, and now it’s out. I wrote about it here and here, and you can watch it here. Related: Jack White called me an asshole in an NME interview. I am preparing my battle-rap response as we speak. The game about to change!