Diamond Rugs w/Alabama Shakes, Robert Ellis
Sunday, June 24
Better than: The pre-concert City Parks commercial featuring our mayor eating nuts, saying, “Oh, hello. I’m Mike Bloomberg, and I’m nuts!”
If you’re a new band, it has to be hard taking an outdoor, festival-like stage to perform a free show on a 80+-degree afternoon in early summer. You’re thankful to be playing, of course, but then again, it’s scorching hot. You’ve probably been drinking. Instruments go out of tune. You didn’t sleep much. Crowds can be drunk, obnoxious, or both. The sound system stinks. People won’t shut up. Food is overpriced. Nobody is actually listening to the music.
Some artists thrive in these situations, somehow flipping the negatives into positives and turning their concert into a lively, not-at-all-sluggish atmosphere. But in order for that to happen, the band/singer/whomever needs to completely invest in themselves and the performance. If they don’t and anything—even just one song—feels half-assed, say goodbye to half of the crowd’s attention span and prepare yourself for a show where most people are more concerned with their social media feeds than your on-stage antics. Yesterday at SummerStage in Central Park, indie rock “supergroup” Diamond Rugs fell prey to this exact problem.
The band contains a hodgepodge of characters from the indie sphere—John McCauley and Robbie Crowell of Deer Tick, Ian Saint Pe of the Black Lips, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Hardy Morris of Dead Confederate, and Bryan Dufresne of Six Finger Satellite. Their self-titled LP, a bluesy, funked up alt-country record, was released back in April, but the group hadn’t made their way to New York till this past weekend. After a “surprise” headlining performance at the Bell House in Brooklyn on Friday (they just announced it last week), the band made their originally planned New York debut yesterday afternoon in Central Park, squeezed into an hour-long set between Robert Ellis and Alabama Shakes. And, well, to put it bluntly, it just wasn’t very good.
Diamond Rugs (which, by the way, stands for “Damn I Am On Drugs”) limped through a set built mostly of cuts from their album. Aside from the first few songs, the group lacked energy and came off flat and apathetic, which is totally uncharacteristic of all of these members’ bands. The onslaught of rock ‘n’ roll frenzy I expected wasn’t there, and Rugs spent most of their time hidden behind sunglasses, loosely strumming away on their electric guitars. They bantered with the crowd here and there (and made a pointed effort to let everyone know they were drinking beer), but it all just felt a bit off. I’ve seen both Deer Tick and the Black Lips multiple times, and if I ever had any criticism coming away from a show, it was that they were too loud and too energetic. If these dudes would calm down and focus a little bit, I’d think to myself, then perhaps we’d actually get a feel for the music in a way that isn’t encouraging me to slam an empty beer can into my forehead.
Despite the uneven performance, yesterday did have a few bright spots. The rendition of “Totally Lonely,” a quiet, introspective track found right in the heart of the LP, offered a lovely barbershop quartet feeling from the band as they neared the end of their set. At that point, it seemed obvious that these guys might’ve simply been exhausted. They dropped the “rock god facade” and just sang, belting out lyrics full of themes about feeling abandoned and forgotten.
A similar moment happened during the last song, when the rest of the band left McCauley on stage with only his piano player, a microphone, and a beer. “I’m walking through the town square, singing Christmas carols to myself,” he crooned on “Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant,” charmingly appearing to believe that he was, indeed, only singing to himself. If only Diamond Rugs had spent the rest of their set doing the same.
Critical bias: There’s a Deer Tick poster hanging in my apartment.
Overheard: “It’s definitely hot. Seriously, it’s definitely hot.” Thanks for the insight, dude.
Random notebook dump: Lots of beach balls. Too many beach balls.