It’s been four years since Art Brut released its debut album Bang Bang Rock & Roll, and frontman Eddie Argos’s persona remains a perfect blend of irony and disarming sincerity. “I’m not shambolic,” he said on Tuesday night between songs, before correcting himself: “Oh, okay, okay, I’m shambolic.” (No one had asked whether he was or was not shambolic.) Then Argos abruptly dropped the thought to describe his gleeful visit to DC Comics that afternoon, and Art Brut launched into “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes,” a simple and sweetly nostalgic track from Art Brut Vs. Satan.
After two months of touring through Europe, the band was just getting settled into New York, playing their second show of a five-night residency at Mercury Lounge. Argos kept up his notoriously winning audience banter, which is frequently indistinguishable from his actual lyrics. During “Modern Art,” he jumped into the crowd and told a long, highly detailed story about blacking out in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, as a result of the intoxicating paintings therein. It was ostensibly an update of “Modern Art”‘s original lyrics, which involve losing control at the Tate and the Pompidou. But according to Argos’s blog, he had recently collapsed in Amsterdam–albeit from the pain of a back injury sustained while dancing around onstage.
The crowd didn’t seem care whether the story was true or not. When Argos’s mic went dead, somebody yelled protectively, “That mic cord sucks!” This was followed by suggestions like, “Turn your phone off!” “Take your watch off!” and “Pull your pants down!” With a seasoned comic’s timing, Argos used this last comment to segue into “What a Rush,” from Art Brut Vs. Satan, which begins, “I wish I hadn’t taken off/ All my clothes/ Now I need them/ Where did they go?”
“Formed a Band” was part of the encore, and probably came the closest to causing a good-natured mosh pit near the front. Guitarists Ian Catskilkin and Jasper Future had prefaced it with the opening riff to “Back in Black,” whereupon Argos gave the crowd three reasons to form a band: “One…more records in shops. Two…look how fun it is! And three…because I told you.” Whatever gift for post-ironic self-effacement Argos possesses in order to make this funny instead of annoying may well have been genetically inherited. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, he recalled his youthful “mum” (she was 18 when she had him) dancing to The Specials’ “Too Much Too Young” (“Now you’re married with a kid when you could be having fun”). “My mum was married much too young and she did have a kid when she was supposed to be having fun,” Argos said. “She had a highly developed sense of irony.”