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His socks don’t match, either: (l-r) Damien Kulash and Dan Konopka of OK Go.

photo:Joe Putrock

All the Right Moves
By John Brodeur

OK Go, Apollo Sunshine, the Exit, the Churchills

Revolution Hall, Dec. 10

In a year when everything MTV went “November Rain” in scale, from Green Day videos to reality shows, it’s heartening to see the public’s embrace of Chicago-based pop group OK Go. All but destined for footnote status six months ago, the band have seen their “A Million Ways” video—a single, stationary shot of the four men rehearsing a goofy dance routine that quotes from both West Side Story and The Matrix—downloaded more than 3 million times. It must have cost all of $50 to make, and that’s being generous.

This is also the year when Ashlee Simpson was able to bounce back from her own Milli Vanilli episode, but if that debacle played any part in allowing OK Go to revisit their haphazardly lip-synched dance routine as the “encore” in their live show, so be it. Headlining Saturday night’s Non- Conformal Ball (a 21st birthday party for radio station WEQX), the foursome didn’t take the stage until after midnight, but they packed enough energy and pop smarts into their performance to keep most of the audience howling into the wee hours. If nothing else, the band members certainly proved that they are better dancers than the Lipstick Lovelies, a local burlesque (read: crude humor, spotty singing, much cleavage) troupe brought on for an unannounced, unnecessary set that did nothing more than chill the room and push the show further behind schedule.

Opening with the off-kilter throwback “Let It Rain,” OK Go shook some generally Brit-influenced action for most of their hourlong set, shuffling through moves of the ’60s and ’70s in time with the various paisley patterns broadcast on the screen behind them. The dumbish 2002 single “Get Over It” even took on new light in the mix with so many other flavors. They’re really just interpreters of the pop legend, these guys—they know their Zombies (their cover of “This Will Be Our Year” from last year’s Future Soundtrack For America comp was smartly reverent) from their Utopia (the bridge on “Invincible” redeems the otherwise flat tune) from their Sloan (“Do What You Want” is pure Navy Blues). They’re not quite up to par with the accomplished thievery of Fountains of Wayne, but outside of a clunky take on the Violent Femmes’ “Prove My Love,” their set made for a pretty good grab bag of hand-me-down pop. And they can dance.

Apollo Sunshine were last through in January for a WEQX birthday show at Northern Lights. (Two birthdays in a year? Impossible!) That night, they were all over the map, and their experimentation came off as amateurish and tiring. Must have been an off night, because on Saturday, their playfulness was reined-in and polished, making for the best music of the evening. The Berklee (College of Music) band usually evoked two acts at a time: the Grateful Dead and the Butthole Surfers on “Magnolia,” Ben Folds and Radiohead on “Happening.” On that song, guitarist Sam Cohen, talented beyond his pedigree, took a mind-bending turn on the pedal steel; during “I Was On the Moon,” he delivered an electric lead that was positively euphoric. The band even made good with “Crosstown Traffic”—no small feat.

The Exit and the Churchills, two acts fronted by dual singer-songwriters, opened the evening with two wildly different, but impressive, sets. While the Exit’s rough-and-tumble sound drew heavily from mod and punk influences (the Jam, Fugazi, early U2), the Churchills’ carefully constructed pop-rock (imagine a Matrix-produced Posies) was slick and radio-ready, especially on “Sugar Daddy” (from 2003’s Big Ideas) and their current single, “Sucker for a Girl in Uniform.”

We Wanted More

Supersuckers, Reverend Horton Heat

Revolution Hall, Dec. 12

“Sixteen years later, we still got it,” boasted Supersuckers bassist and frontman Eddie Spaghetti, his fingers on both hands raised in that eternal rock & roll devil-horns salute. “I believe it is official,” he announced a few songs later. “We have rocked the house.” There’s no need for humility when you’ve got the “greatest rock & roll band in the world,” as Spaghetti is fond of saying. Few fans of the high-octane rock genre would quibble with his declaration, and besides, rock & roll singers, aside from maybe prize fighters, are about the only people in the world who can wear braggadocio in such a likeable way.

In the mid-’90s when the Supersuckers played at Bogie’s in Albany, they were all about unrelenting speed and Exacto-knife precision. In the same tradition, they opened their set at Revolution Hall on Monday night with “Rock-n-Roll Records (Ain’t Sellin’ This Year)” and “Rock Your Ass,” two newer, but no less incendiary songs from 2003’s Motherfuckers Be Trippin’ album. Spaghetti, dressed in a black cowboy hat and wrap-around sunglasses, gave his first devil-horn salute of the night as a fan up front incongruously waved a purple foam hand, of the sort most often seen in sporting stadiums.

Burrowing deeper into country music with 1997’s Must’ve Been High album changed the Supersuckers a bit. Since then, they tend to mix the high-throttle songs with midtempo country shuffle: “Creepy Jackalope Eye,” one of the band’s best-known songs from their classic third album, La Mano Cornuda, started out at a narcotic pace as a slow groove, before Spaghetti spouted the signature line (“Something so farfetched/Well how ’bout Adam and Eve?”) and the band upshifted into their more- typical high-gear selves.

“We’ve almost gone through our whole lives without coming to Troy, but we’re here,” Spaghetti joked. And the crowd was happy about that. Although the evening’s bill was top-notch all around (openers Split Lip Rayfield reportedly put on a great set of punk-bluegrass), a contingent of the audience had shown up primarily to see the Supersuckers. Which is why the band’s 10-song set seemed vaguely unfulfilling, despite ending with a kick-ass version of “Born With a Tail,” which incorporated a rotating bass solo by Spaghetti, guitarists Dan “Thunder” Bolton and Ron Heathman, and guest drummer Scott Churilla (from Reverend Horton Heat). It was like being offered only a bite of pie, when you know the whole pan sits steaming in the kitchen: We wanted more, and knowing we weren’t going to get it kept us from savoring the little bit we had.

Reverend Horton Heat, as frontman and guitarist Jim “Reverend” Heath mentioned on stage, have been criticized for not varying their setlists much. It is true that they tend to open up with a trio of tunes from Liquor in the Front—“Baddest of the Bad,” “Five-O Ford” and “I Can’t Surf” (at least they did the same during their Saratoga Winners show a few years back)—and end on the high-note of “The Devil’s Chasing Me” and “Where in the Hell Did You Go With My Toothbrush?” (ditto). But there’s nothing wrong with having a few constants in life; at least we can count on the Reverend to wear a flame-embossed tuxedo jacket and a tight smile as he lets loose with his skilled psychobilly guitar licks. (Is it just me, or does the guy look more like a character from a Daniel Clowes comic book every day?)

This time, there were a few non- constants in the performance: a set of twang-ified Christmas tunes from the Rev’s holiday album We Three Kings, which Heath was eager to air before they expire in less than a month but grew tedious after a song or two, and the singer’s verbal reaming of a fan who jumped off the stage: “You don’t care who you hurt, so fuck you. Stay off my fucking stage. Idiot.”

—Kirsten Ferguson

Kick Out Some of the Jams

Phil Lesh and Friends

Washington Avenue Armory, Dec. 4

“This is going to suck lemons big time,” carped Bear, a regular on a Grateful Dead Internet discussion forum. Phil Lesh, the Dead’s brilliant and unconventional bassist, and his Shadow of the Moon tour was coming to the Armory with jazz guitarist John Scofield subbing for former Dylan axman Larry Campbell, who had a prior commitment with Emmylou Harris on that evening. “Scofield can’t jam worth a damn, never could,” Bear groused on.

Bigger problems than a mismatch in the lineup loomed, though. The week before the show, a faction within the Grateful Dead organization evidently led by Bob Weir ordered more than 3,000 downloadable Dead shows removed from the popular Internet Archive Web site, igniting resentment among Deadheads and calls for a boycott of all Dead-related merchandise and concerts. Lesh quickly issued a statement distancing himself from the crackdown, explaining that it had occurred without his knowledge.

None of that seemed to matter as Jamband Nation mobbed the Washington Avenue Armory to hear the 65-year-old Lesh, Scofield, Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson, drummer John Molo, keyboardist Mookie Siegel and guitarist-pedal steel player Barry Sless deliver a virtuosic, if not sometimes vacuous show, drawn largely from the Dead’s early catalogue and heavily laced with “space”—nebulous interludes when the music hung on an unchanging chord and took on the quality of a Jackson Pollock painting. Lesh has said the Dead’s first 10 years were their best; none of the songs performed—including covers from the Band, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, and the Beatles—were written after 1976.

Robinson led off with the Band’s “Just Another Whistle Stop,” his strong singing showing a Southern-rock influence. Barry Sless followed Robinson’s vocals with Jerry Garcia-inspired riffing over the shuffle groove, after which the group abandoned their harmonic moorings and took the first of several forays into space. This was surprising, given that a typical Grateful Dead show consisted of a first set of mostly conventional songs with an extended space jam with drum solos reserved for the middle of the second set. And as it turned out, Lesh’s heavy tilt toward the amorphous proved the night’s biggest shortcoming—there was just too much of it, especially if you were not “dozin’. ”

Robinson sang “Loose Lucy” next, and then Lesh took over for “Friend of the Devil” as Sless switched to the pedal steel, which, because of the poor acoustics of the cavernous brick hall, was barely audible. The group started off in a slow, sedate groove and gradually raised it to a trademark Dead crescendo.

The worst mishap of the night occurred at the end of Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” when Robinson brought the song lurching to a premature halt and an animated Lesh was seen afterward talking to him away from the mic and waving his finger at him in apparent anger. Too bad: Just moments before, John Scofield’s fluid, rootsy soloing had proved the that jazzer had adapted to jam-band music with ease.

The band continued through a sequence of Dead favorites, including the Appalachian ballad “Cold Rain and Snow,” an iridescent “Bird Song,” Sippy Wallace’s blues classic “I Know You Rider,” a swaggering “U.S. Blues,” and a Dead rarity, “The Stranger (Two Souls Lost in Communion).” “You Got to Hide Your Love Away” marked the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s tragic murder. After a rushed, heavy-handed “All Along the Watchtower,” the group closed with “Midnight Hour” (finally allowing Siegel to strut his tasty, gospel-tinged stuff), and encored with “Not Fade Away.”

For the most part, when Lesh and his talented friends played recognizable music, they were wonderful. But all too often one found oneself inside a kaleidoscope of glittering, abstract tones waiting for the next song to begin. Remember, jam freezes when it’s left out in space.

—Glenn Weiser

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