They’re naked! Laughing yet?
A weird feeling: finding out that your friends’ band has somehow landed a headlining spot at a Knitting Factory show, then showing up to the club and seeing it pretty close to full and realizing that there’s just about nobody in the crowd who you know. That surprise jumps a few notches when the band in question is the Scurvy Pirates, a band whose whole thing is that they’re pirates who were frozen in ice hundreds of years ago and then thawed out in present-day Williamsburg. The Pirates are actually guys who I knew from school at Syracuse, most of them art students locally famous for pulling off ridiculous public stunts like I wish I could remember what. They’re all a few years older than me, but they would always come back to town to play parties. They’re admirably dedicated to their gimmick: costumes, backstory, constant arrs. I once saw them play a Halloween party dressed as pirates dressed as ghosts, white sheets over the costumes they usually wear (“Arr! Boo!“). One guy used to wear a stuffed parrot stapled to his shoulder. Their former drummer recently rejoined, playing a triangle that he dangles from a hook-hand. I’ve known all of these guys for a long time, and I can’t pretend anything close to critical distance, but I think this whole thing is really fucking funny. But it’s not exactly the sort of thing that’s going to translate to anything beyond the Dr. Demento show, where “Fight for Your Right to Plunder” was the number one song a few years ago. Musically, it’s pretty gleefully awful, accordions and off-key gang-singing and a couple of upside-down buckets instead of actual drums. As far as I can tell, Pirates shows in New York generally work as reunions for a circle of art kids who graduated Syracuse sometime between 1999 and 2003, and there aren’t anywhere near enough of those kids to fill up the Knit.
Things became a whole lot clearer when just about everyone left before the Pirates came on; they weren’t headlining, they were just playing last. So most of the crowd was either there to see opening comedian/The State guy Michael Showalter, who I missed, or the unbelievably fucking irritating comedy-rock duo Stuckey & Murray. (Apparently there was a white joke-rap duo involved too; thank God I missed that one.) Stuckey & Murray are basically a worst-case scenario for comedy-rock: doofy whitebread indie-pop played by two dudes who look like characters in a Whit Stillman movie singing an endless series of endless songs whose whole thing is that they’re “offensive,” even with the entire crowd falling all over itself to show how not offended it was by cheering every “fuck” and “fucking” and “fuck.” And so we got an hour’s worth of songs about fucking a grandmother or fucking someone from Jersey or fucking a Jewish girl. At best, these songs are one-chuckle jokes, and they only managed to pull even that off once or twice (I laughed at “Butterface”). They cover “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” except with cuss words subbed in for the original torrential non-sequitur stream, sort of like early Blink-182, except minus the cleverness and hooks and plus the appearance of cleverness and a general sense of entitlement. In a room of post-frat yuppie types guffawing along with this stuff, the atmosphere is acridly, corrosively white. Stuckey & Murray are two dudes who aren’t willing to make the decision whether they want to be funny or they want to be cute, so they try to be both, and it’s putrid.
In Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, there’s a nice scene where Chappelle says that musicians and comedians make for a natural pairing because every comedian wants to be a musician and every musician thinks he’s funny. Part of what works about the Scurvy Pirates is that they aren’t trying to be musicians even when they’re playing music (you should hear it; it’s horrible). They aren’t trying to be cute or likable either. They’re just trying to be funny, which maybe isn’t the loftiest goal in the world, but it’s something they can do beautifully. Stuckey & Murray exist at the same godforsaken intersection of comedian-musician-cute as Adam Sandler “Hanukkah Song” sequels and the Jimmy Fallon album nobody bought and I don’t even know what else. It’s ugly, trust me.