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Like, Woof

By Kirsten Ferguson

Blank Dogs, Wetdog, Dead Friend

Valentine’s, April 5

 

Brooklyn’s Blank Dogs is primarily a one-man project, an out- let for the home recordings of multi- instrumentalist Mike Sniper, who also plays bass in the postpunk outfit DC Snipers and runs Captured Tracks, an indie label that has released a number of Brooklyn-based (and farther afield) bands with a similar lo-fi—bordering on crude—garage-pop aesthetic.

Prolific to say the least, Sniper has put out dozens of Blank Dogs singles and EPs since 2007, along with two full-length albums. They largely hew to a dark-for-dark-business brand of (often quite catchy) synthpop with mechanized beats and overcast vocals buried under layers of distortion and reverb—echoes of both Joy Division and Suicide. Many of the recordings, released in small pressings on various independent labels, are highly sought after and trade for relatively large amounts on eBay, a trend Sniper has tried to counter by offering up much of his music for free download online.

That desirability factor has been fueled in part by a cult of mystery surrounding Blank Dogs, since Sniper’s identity as the force behind the recordings wasn’t publicly known at first and he didn’t initially perform live. Visual cues—from the anonymous figure shrouded in red on the cover for Blank Dogs’ On Two Sides album to the gauze-covered face of the unidentified person on the band’s Web site—added to the mystique.

Now out in the open about his Blank Dogs identity, and touring the East Coast with Captured Tracks labelmates Wetdog, Sniper brought a new EP, Phrases, and a newish lineup to Valentine’s on Monday night. Pared down from a previous Blank Dogs live incarnation of five members, his current permutation of three (with Sniper on guitar and vocals, a woman on Korg keyboard and second guitar, and a guy plying various synths and effects, including Theremin) is “wimpier, less rock sounding,” as Sniper said in a recent interview.

Sniper had a black hoodie pulled over his head at Valentine’s, but otherwise didn’t cultivate much mystery; if anything, he seemed a bit uncomfortable onstage. Possibly he’s still figuring out how to best adapt his songs to other players in a live setting. “Is it really distorted out there? It sounds really distorted up here. Nobody cares. Just cross your arms and don’t say anything,” Sniper complained after the set’s anemic start. The effects man at stage right overcompensated, it seemed, for a certain listlessness plaguing the show—he overplayed his sci-fi sounding Theremin zwaps until they became too much of a gimmick. Only by mid-to-late-set did Blank Dogs live up to their recorded promise on a Silver Apples-meets-Alan Vega tune enlivened by cool effects and greater enthusiasm.

London’s all-chick Wetdog, a retro-postpunk trio in the vein of the Slits or the Raincoats, launched their short-but-sweet set with “Train-Track” and finished it with “Zah Und Zaheet,” both disarmingly simple, two-minute tunes with repetitive elementary-school choruses and angular art-punk guitar. Singer and guitarist Rivka Gillieron, who sounded at times like Kim Deal, picked out clarion-call guitar lines while bassist Billy Easter added timely yelps against the backdrop of drummer Sarah Datblygu’s primitive beats.

Local musician Andrew Sullivan, who put on the show, opened with Dead Friend, his collaboration with Scientific Maps drummer Phil Pascuzzo. The black-T-shirted duo, both sporting black-rim glasses, kicked off the night with their self-described “distorted two-note drone,” a pulsing beat providing foundation for the duo’s layers of melodic distortion and Sullivan’s low, Ian Curtis murmur. With a nostalgic feel, conjuring up lonely off-season boardwalks and gray skies, the pair built their wall of sound over the course of their set, closing with a big crescendo for a dramatic finish.


Babylon and On

Photo: Joe Putrock

English songsmith David Gray played to a packed house at the Egg’s Kitty Carlisle Hart Theatre on Monday night. While heavy on production—the lighting and sound system was so massive that some sightlines reportedly were obscured—the set was a crowd-pleaser, featuring a mix of past hits and singles from Draw the Line (Gray’s latest release, not the 1977 Aerosmith album).

 

 

 

 

 

 


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