Better Than: Listening to a live-in-the-studio gig on your computer
We weren’t expecting a normal gig: This pronunciationally plosive pairing of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Parquet Courts was being staged at WNYC’s The Greene Space — a sumptuous, state of the art, acoustically stunning set with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall looking out onto Varick Street — Wednesday night for an audience of around 150 people. The bands both have brand-new albums arriving in the next few weeks and would be showcasing all-new songs in the first show of the station’s “Gigstock” series, co-presented by WNYC and the invaluable Oh My Rockness site, we’d been told would last around 90 minutes.
But we really weren’t expecting a modern version of an old-school,1960s-style radio show, with frequent band interviews and veteran WNYC host John Schaefer hovering around the stage like your high-school girlfriend’s dad when you were trying to get her alone in the rec room. It was basically a pair of sampler EPs of the group’s new albums: Parquet Courts got four songs, Pains got six, and we got a lot of questions of the “How did you come up with the band’s name?” and “How are American and European festivals different from each other?” variety.
Even with an enthusiastic audience, any live-in-the-studio set is by nature much more formal than a “real” gig, but to their credit neither band let the inevitable stiffness of the setting or the interviews get to them. Parquet Courts’ roared through the first two songs from the new LP, “Sunbathing Animal” (due in June on What’s Your Rupture/Mom + Pop) with some solid head-bobbing and Strat-strangling and were just getting warmed up when Schaefer took the stage for a full 10 minutes. Questions followed about festival survival tips (“Hydrate!,” singer/guitarist Andrew Savage quipped) and whether the band had looked on YouTube for any actual sunbathing animals (they hadn’t, but a clip of kittens cuddling in the sun ensued on the studio’s video monitors).
Parquet Courts’ relative-breakthrough LP, last year’s Light Up Gold and its widely aired single “Stoned and Starving,” was adrenalized and feisty, but a lot of the material on the new album is in a lower gear, playing up the Pavement and early Fall in their DNA and allowing more light to shine on the often-hilarious lyrics (a personal favorite, from “Raw Milk”: “She gets feisty when she’s been drinkin’, never can tell what the hell she’s thinkin’, smiles like she’s got one eye winkin’ at you / Dog walkers in the living room, strange wine in the kitchen, and she’s brewin’ somethin’ bitchin’ just for you”). None of the group’s vocalists are particularly gifted singers, but they cleverly sidestep the problem by letting the guitars carry the melodies, often having one guitarist sing along with or in counterpart to a simple line plucked on single strings by the other guitarist.
The band ripped a fast and a slow song from the new album — the title track and “Instant Dissassembly” — before vacating the stage for Schaefer, who interviewed the organizers of Brooklyn’s Zinefest while the set was changed over for Williamsburg veterans Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
The group’s new LP, Days of Abandon, hardly lives up to the recklessness implied in its title — if anything it’s even more controlled, although there’s a more joyful lilt to the songs than the indie-twee-O.D. of their Creation Records-obsessed debut and the Siamese Dream-y majesty of 2011’s Belong. There’s also been a significant lineup shakeup — longtime keyboardist/singer Peggy Wang left, reportedly to focus on her job at Buzzfeed, and hasbeen replaced by diminutive singer Jen Goma and keyboardist/singer Drew Citron. Still, Pains remain the vision of singer/guitarist Kip Berman, who sings the group’s shimmering pop songs in his trademark whispy coo, which belies a speaking voice so nasal you’d never believe the guy is a singer.
The band got through one song before Schaefer took the stage for a battery of questions that Berman answered like a talk-show guest. Schaefer mentioned the “Cleopatra” reference in the album’s closing track, “The Asp on My Chest”; “Actually it’s about our manager,” Berman shot back. The next question — “What’s the craziest gig you’ve ever played?” — led into a long story about playing a venue in Manchester, England that Berman described as a hot, airless “workingmen’s club” on Morrissey’s 50th birthday, “Which is like a national holiday in Manchester,” which inadvertently led into “Kelly,” a song even more flagrantly inspired by the Smiths’ “This Charming Man” than the Decemberists’ “Sporting Life.”
Schaefer took the stage two more times during the six-song set — to be fair, once due to a technical problem with the keyboard — and Berman kept up his comedy act without fail. (Schaefer: “What do you call superfans of your band?” Berman: “Dorks!”) The night concluded with Berman and Goma doing a gentle duet of the new album’s opening track, “Until the Sun Explodes.” 9:15 p.m.: lights up.
Gigstock is a great concept with incredible potential — a rare opportunity to preview new material on the air, before a small, select in-studio audience in an amazing studio with incredible acoustics. But just 10 songs total from two bands? Why not let the bands play a full set and stream it online after the edited show airs — even Letterman gives the audience some bonus tracks. Whether the brevity was due to tradition, the union, the budget or the babysitter, it seems like it’d be easy enough to stretch out the show for even just another hour.