Sharpless (+<), Humbert Humbert
Friday, June 3
Better than: Reminiscing about Suck.com’s takedown of Yum-Yum.
The all-ages scene is born from the necessities of talented kids seeking venues their peers can actually visit as much as anything. And the DIY schtick at best is just folks who, by virtue of youth or the increasingly rare phenomenon of independent wealth, can care about performance a bit more than paychecks. Both Sharpless and Humbert Humbert, who played the Friday-night opening slots of the Brooklyn music fest Hillstock, contain ex-members of Brooklyn all-ages band A Mighty Handful, are really young, and take real pains to deliver a genuine performance. In fact, they almost write songs to be performed. It’s moshpit pop, if you will. (Poshpit? Ew!)
The crowd at 285 Kent (a converted warehouse and Todd P joint) was still thin and the merch table was nearly bare when Sharpless took the B-stage, which was so small it fit three of the six members— lead singer Jack Greenleaf was forced to the floor, as were percussionist Montana Levy and keyboardist Oliver Kalb (whose instrument was mounted securely on an empty plastic trash can). The energy, however, was tremendous. Greenleaf claims Weezer as an influnce, but I hear the mid-’90s 4-track aesthetic (the band grew out of his self-produced solo album of the same name) and its descendants—Sebadoh, Drag City, early Dismemberment Plan, even some Archers. “Goodnight,” which has dueling male/female vocals, added a bit of a Simple Machines Records/Small Factory vibe. The lyrics, which are worth paying attention to, brim with self-pity and heartache (“Penpals”: “She’s rooms away/ We’re miles apart/ She’s in my bed/ And you’re still in my heart/ It’s a start”). But the backbeat is tight and the guitar heroics have just enough of a wink.
The too-short set closed with “Taurus”—two parts herky-jerk tommy gun guitar, one part broken heart, and one part anthemic backup vocals—and then, a modest feedback freakout. Which, get this: While the feedback kept ringing, the band unplugged their equipment and strolled offstage, leaving two-piece Humbert Humbert enough time to plug in and incorporate that very same feedback into their first number. Now that’s entertainment!
Henry Crawford took the stage hopping and stomping like a maniac; not only did his sunglasses and cigarettes fall out of his front pocket, but he kept going like a wild man and found himself in such a fury of musical intensity that he stomped on those same cigarettes! And I mean, we’re talking New York City prices here! (The sunglasses, dear reader, were recovered unharmed.) Humbert’s set is more artsy and less pop, leaning to the sludge side of the alt-spectrum. I hear one song announced as “The Punk Rock” and excitedly think “as in Smash Your Head on The?” but later learn that it is “The Punk One” (not really, I don’t think). Jack jumps back in on electric organ for the closer, whose lyrics have something to do with rock and roll, disappointment, and loneliness (“But as my shoulders grew broader and wider/ as I swallowed more and more spiders/ I learned the world was not built for soldiers/ It was built for pricks and deserters”). It’s long on bitterness and tension, cutting off perversely when another band would go the route of major-chord catharsis. Only 40 minutes into the festival, and the best part of the night is already over.
A few scattered and unfair notes on some of the night’s other sets: Let Me Crazy: Why does every hardcore band feel the need to wear a Black Flag t-shirt onstage? Brave Little Abacus: I was valiantly sticking with you, but gave up when you launched straight-out into “Somewhere Out There.” Sorry. ZEBU!: What people imagine Brooklyn bands sounded like in 2005, but how very few bands actually sound. The clarinet and trumpet keep their mouthpieces but swap instruments for about a third of a song—the musical effect is pretty solid. Great, intense stuff, if not really my thing. Problem Solver: Another MyFace-less band (where do they find these guys, Twitter!?) who announce this as their first show ever and who inspire me to write “Morrissey fronts Crass” in my notebook. But 2.5 songs in I suddenly lose interest and decide to head home before The So So Glos take the stage and L service to Manhattan shuts down for the weekend.
Critical bias: The ex-Handful folks are friends of a friend, and real nice guys to boot.
Overheard: Henry, outside, smoking one of his well-abused cigarettes, on the way-early opening slot&#-151;”It’s like losing a life in Mortal Kombat; every time you change your band name, you go back to the beginning.”
Random notebook dump: Wearing Operation Ivy t-shirts is a thing again? God I’m getting old.
Sharpless set list:
Humbert Humbert set list:
We Don’t Cast Shadows
In San Francisco
“The Punk One”