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Variations on a theme song: Jimmy Eat World at Northern Lights. Photo by Martin Benjamin

First Things First
By John Rodat

Jimmy Eat World, Desaparecidos, Recover
Northern Lights, July 20

Let me ask you something: Are you the kind of person who fast-forwards through the previews when you rent a movie? If so, why? Don’t you see that those previews are like half-a-dozen free movies? You’ve paid your $3.95, or whatever, for The Waterboy, and at no additional charge you get these little Reader’s Digest-style condensed movies. Why bypass them? They’re totally gratis, and with the vast majority of movies, it’s not like you’re missing any crucial plot points or narrative subtleties by wolfing down these telegraphic bursts. Plus, there’s the off chance you just might want to check out the full work at a later date, right? This is relevant: See, I’d hazard a guess that the folks who leap for the remote when they see the “This preview has been rated . . .” are the same folks who talk right through the opening bands.

Look, kids, Jimmy Eat World are a fine band. Nothing wrong with shelling out the 20 clams to see them. But, if you didn’t notice (and that whole pod of you standing right next to me, jawing incessantly the whole goddamn time, didn’t), there were two other—arguably better, more interesting—bands onstage that night. I mean, you’re 16-years old, you’re out of the house waiting for a band you dig to hit the stage, in a crowd packed with 16-year-old girls who might just bump against you in the milling throng—what the fuck are you so impatient for? To hear the two Jimmy Eat World songs you already know and then rush home to the folks? I’m baffled. If you had shut up, you might just have heard something new you wanted to rip from the net.

In fact, the night rocked in exact inverse relation to the billing. Headliners Jimmy Eat World turned in a fine, tight set of melodic and emotive punky pop (or poppy punk), that sounded like perfect theme-song music for an edgy new cable series about teens getting real. Snippets of the band’s superior, more challenging alt-rock forebears (Guided by Voices, the Breeders, Weezer) drifted through songs tantalizingly, but never really paid off. In the end, Jimmy Eat World sounded like a slicker, moodier, better-rehearsed, late-career Soul Asylum.

Desaparecidos also had a pop feel, which was surprising given the noise quotient on their debut album, Read Music-Speak Spanish. But where the album is all rasped angst, found sound, anti-sprawl political diatribe and stompbox distortion, the live approach of Desaparecidos includes ample ’80s-style keyboard countermelodies, and shared vocals that—though ragged—often approached actual harmony. Anyone familiar with singer-guitarist Conor Oberst’s other project, Bright Eyes, would tell you to expect lyrics of slightly overwrought self-doubt and tortured introspection, and the 21-year-old hasn’t strayed too far from his natural inclination to mope. But in Desaparecidos, Oberst’s agony has a kind of postpunk glee, which was encapsulated perfectly when he howled the refrain “I got nothin’, I got nothin’” only to follow it immediately with a “Whooo!” right out of a Poison tune.

First up were Recover, an Austin band about whom I know next to nothing save this: They killed. A four-piece with a thick, mean rhythm section and dueling lead vocalists-guitarists (one sang, the other screamed), Recover mashed classic rock, British metal à lá Motörhead and early Iron Maiden with the more aggressive end of emo, like Sunny Day Real Estate. I didn’t even know these guys were on the bill, and they absolutely knocked me out. Now, if I could just find that rewind button . . .

Eclectic Fields

Secretguy, Blackcat Elliot, Bryan Thomas
Lark Tavern, July 20

One of the oldest nightclubs in Albany, the Lark Tavern offers killer pub fare, colorful regulars and a remorseless knack for promoting some of the most esoteric live music bills around in recent years. This particular Saturday evening, we were treated to the wares of three very different styles of musica obscura and not-so-obscura. And—bonus!—each purveyor had new stuff on the table for our perusal, which can only bode well for the old tarmac of my brain.

Local solo favorite Bryan Thomas was first at bat, offering the dinner-hour crowd engaging and pleasantly rich melodies about “sex and race and art and God and the end of the world.” Here is refreshing, fusion-on-a-short-fuse folk, instantly reassuring and provoking. One envisions Lenny Kravitz pit-fighting Prince in a beat-generation parking lot over a ’62 Telecaster. This is hips-and-legs music, no questions asked. For a moment, one forgets that the place is utterly bereft of any real ventilation system. The place smells like Mothra’s ashtray. But I digress.

Drawing mostly from his latest WT3 Records release, Ones and Zeros (which, in fact, provides a measure of the aforementioned aural support), Thomas was at times methodical, at other times migratory, sending up pearl after pearl and leaving the bullshitting to the barflies. This guy is wholly capable of holding his own, but one can’t help but yearn for a tight, industrious band of hooligans beneath the opaque diversity of his voice.

Blackcat Elliot announced their opener as a sound check and proceeded to blast through a truncated set of 4/4 dandies and slow-dancers. From the solemn poetry of “So Nobody Knows” to the true lilt of “When My Party Ends,” it was clear that frontman Kostas Hais spent much of his teen years in the bedroom, heeding the songwriting ethics of the Beatles, Badfinger and Cheap Trick. Never to be one-upped on cover choices, they also took time to memorialize the Ramones with “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” and revisit the final days of locally acclaimed wheelie kings North Again with “Don’t Break the News.”

Theirs is not a joyless lot, yet a certain sadness pervades the basic themes of BCE’s melodies, something less obvious than a botched love affair, more proximal than the low buzz of guilt. Humble to the point of bewilderment, Hais and company quietly left the stage with a “thank you” and not so much as a sliver of feedback. If you like it lo-fi and honest, you’ll like these guys.

All you need to know about Secretguy is that the floodgates to some satanic marshland have blasted open into the oceanic overwhelming might of some heavy-ass new deal. Engorged to the max with intense, deliberately gratuitous riffing and dusky, deep-South hollerin’, Al Von Schaf and company selflessly batter and choke the life out of their poor gear as if it were a last ditch effort for devil-blue redemption. The evening’s menu consisted of predominantly spanking new music from their upcoming release, Who is Secretguy?—including the utter bedlam of “Bring to Flood” and the wonderfully irreverent “Lord, My Lord.”

The ’guy were selected as “Best Hard Rock Band” by Metroland editors this year, but the prize is misleading. A better category would be “Best Use of Ridiculously Deadly Force.” People, the boys are loud, but it’s the heft of the vibe that will get you (in fact, the room that night began to assume a different geometry). Aside from splitting eardrums, this effect is achieved more by an esoteric guitar tuning (DADAAD—explain that to Drowning Pool) that Albie confides is really an Eastern sitar tuning that he discovered “by accident when I was trying to learn a Jimmy Page lick.” No matter, because by Crom it’s the heaviest thing since Rosie O’Donnell’s head, and twice as grumpy, which was good enough for me.

—Bill Ketzer

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