Monday, December 03, 2007

I saw two rock shows this weekend.

For a hermit like me that's a pretty big deal.

On Friday night I saw New Zealand indie rock legends The Clean at Cakeshop. The Clean are one of my favorite all time bands and they did not disappoint. If cleanliness is next to godliness then The Clean are indeed next to Gods. I thought maybe my enjoyment stemmed from the fact that I was finally getting to hear them play those cherished songs live but a companion of mine who had never heard the band before volunteered that she thought the band sounded awesome as well. Perhaps seeing them in Cakeshop, with its tiny basement of a performance area, best replicated the sort of environment The Clean would be playing during their early 80s heyday. It was a fairly shambolic affair with the occasional false starts, bum notes and abrupt endings but the music was so transcendent it hardly mattered. The band mainly played selections from Compilation which I suppose are their "hits" though there were other tunes like the mighty "Draw(in)g to a (W)hole" from 1990's Vehicle and Robert Scott's "E Motel" from 2001's Getaway. Perhaps most affecting of all was their version of "Hold onto the Rail" by Clean side project/offshoot The Great Unwashed. (Not these guys.) Opening line: "You say we're like the Rolling Stones/Or the Beatles or better." Yes... I do say.

I did happen to catch the openers, Brooklyn's Crystal Stilts. They played in a C86 style with a bit more of a downer vibe. Imagine the Pastels if they listened to nothing but the Xpressway discography for a year. Some folks were turned off by the singer's Ian Curtis-y vocals but I kind of dug 'em. If they had a 45 for sale I would've picked it up which I suppose qualifies as an endorsement.

One quick note about Cakeshop: in theory it's the coolest hangout in NYC; a café-cum-record shop-cum-live music venue. Unfortunately. it doesn't quite live up to it in practice. The café is fine and the record shop is small but has a nice (if slightly pricey) selection of used vinyl. However, their basement where they hold shows is set up in such a way that unless you're directly in front of the stage it's impossible to see the band. This is unfortunate because the sound is quite good and they consistently book worthwhile acts. Sadly, there's probably nothing that can be done about this without altering the architecture of the building itself. I'll just continue going and elbow my way to front when I can.

On Sunday night I saw Mudhoney with Pissed Jeans as support at Bowery Ballroon. It was my second time seeing the PJs and they were much more lively than the previous time which was in front of about 16 people in some kind of student rec center. Singer Matt Korvette is certainly trying his best to become his generation's David Yow. The band's incredibly loud Flipper/Drunks with Guns/My War-era Black Flag style noise punk seemed to divide the crowd but I'm sure the headliners approved. And how can you not like a band that makes this video?

Mudhoney was billed as playing Superfuzz Bigmuff and early singles which is pretty much exactly what they did opening the show with "Touch Me I'm Sick" and playing every single song from the collection that if not birthed grunge at least served as it's first identifiable archetype. This included both covers: a dirge-like, bad acid trip version of Sonic Youth's "Halloween" (betcha SY's not doing that one anymore) and the Dicks' mighty punk classic "Hate the Police" which closed their set and made me grin from ear to ear. An encore consisted entirely of covers (I think) with Mark Arm eschewing guitar and playing punk frontman for takes on Fang's "The Money Will Roll Right In" and Black Flag's "Fix Me" among others. If that makes it sound like the covers were the highlights of the performance that's probably at least half true as Mudhoney were a band whose excellent taste could sometimes exceed their songwriting chops. But watching 30-somethings slam dance and stage dive(!) to "You Got It (Keep It Out of My Face)" was not without its charm. A nostalgia revue for Gen Xers? Probably but I'll take it over any VH1 Classic-sponsored tour.

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