November 14, 2002

Live Report: Les Savy Fav, Pretty Girls Make Graves and Ex-Models

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

First of all, I'd like to thank the wonderful editor of this web site for putting me on the guest list (plus one!) for this show. It served as a very nice birthday gift for one of my best friends, who turned twenty-two on that day. Out of the three bands on this spectacular bill, the first band, Ex-Models, was the one I wanted to see the most because I wondered how, if possible, they could recreate the incredibly spastic music on their debut album Other Mathematics in a live setting. Most of their songs are minute-long explosions of scratchy, staccato dual-guitar interplay, time signatures that would clear any dance floor, and goofy David Byrne-like yelping. In fact, I would venture to say that Other Mathematics is what Talking Heads would have sounded like if they were a No Wave band, and played only when hyped up on yellow-jackets. How did this sound live? If anything, the Ex-Models' music was even faster and even more abrasive. The vocals were completely unintelligible, and the guitars didn't even sound like they were playing notes half the time, and it didn't help matters that half the time, these guitars were being played with drumsticks Sonic Youth-style. The crowd, myself included, spent more time laughing and gawking at the constant silly faces that the band members made while playing their instruments than listening to the music. We had no CHOICE, as any attempts to really immerse ourselves in the music would have ended in severe whiplash. One startled audience member remarked, "These guys don't even play music; they just jump around like monkeys." I was able to read my friend's thoughts just by the look on her face. This was, in fact, the most audience-polarizing band we had seen together since US Maple opened for Pavement at Stubb's, and she ordered me to burn a copy of Other Mathematics for her that instant.

The crowd got into the second band, Pretty Girls Make Graves, much more, which is understandable considering that you can actually sing and dance to their music. The band suffered from the soundman's terrible mixing: you couldn't hear the female lead singer's vocals or the rhythm guitar at all. While the girl's singing is probably the band's most distinctive asset, the absence of rhythm guitar in the mix had a negligible effect. As it turns out, lead guitarist Jay Clark plays the most complicated parts of every song, both on his main instrument and on keyboards. He is the glue that holds the band together, and he managed to strut across the stage with more charisma and enthusiasm than the rest of the band put together. No, I'm not saying this just because he's black (haha), but I will admit that his presence gives the band a few brownie points (no pun intended...well, maybe) in my eyes. If I could boil the music of Pretty Girls Make Graves down to a formula, I would say that they fuse emo introspection with riot-grrl brattiness. The guitars never, ever sit still, the rhythm section booms and crashes in all the right places, and everyone except the drummer backs the girl up with communal, cathartic hollering. You won't remember all of the songs once they walk off stage, but while they're on stage, you'll be in rock heaven.

If you don't like your rock shows with a healthy dose of psychosexual terrorism, stay far away from the stage during a Les Savy Fav show. I can't even begin to talk about the music until I discuss the antics of the band's lead singer, Tim Harrington. Tim, a bald, plump, and hairy guy in ill-fitting clothes who probably wouldn't be given the time of day if he stopped a girl on the street, manages to make out with almost every girl (and guy) in the audience before the set's even halfway finished. I'm not kidding. He erotically spit-shined my friend's forehead more than a couple of times! He tore off his pants leg and made me take a whiff of it. He threw his crotch in another audience member's face, forcing her to hide, frightened, under my jacket. He stripped, danced on a pole, humped audience members, abandoned the stage to sing in the middle of the crowd for whole songs at a time, and in general, acted a damn fool. Not that I'm complaining, though, because a Les Savy Fav show just wouldn't be complete without Tim's antics. Too many front men use audience participation to compensate for shortcomings in their bands' music. It is to Les Savy Fav's credit, though, that their music would be just as compelling if Tim simply stood on stage and read from the lyric sheet. The synthesizer stabs of Brainiac, the lyrically dense sing/speak of the Fall, the "death disco" of Public Image Limited, and the scratchy guitars of Wire are all strong influences on Les Savy Fav's music. However, Les Savy Fav's own influence on newer independent rock bands has gone unacknowledged: virtually every new band that stands firmly at the crossroads between art, punk, and funk (Liars, the Rapture, !!!, etc.) owes a debt to them. When I'm at one of their shows, though, I am left with no room to intellectualize. I can only let the music take control of me, and duck and cover whenever Tim comes near.

The set covered almost all areas of the band's catalog. There were lots of songs from their debut 3/5, which was recorded when the band had two guitarists, but these songs, particularly "Pluto" and "Cut it Out:" sounded leaner and better with only one guitar. The new songs were all great, which gives me hope that Les Savy Fav's next album will be a significant rebound from their last album, the good but scattershot Go Forth, and of course, they played their standard, The Cat and the Cobra's "Who Rocks the Party?" The song turned into complete chaos when every member of the two opening bands joined Les Savy Fav on stage, each of them wearing a "I Went on Tour with Les Savy Fav and All I Got Was This Stupid T-shirt" shirt. A member of Pretty Girls Make Graves set up his own drum kit on stage, and Jay Clark took over on Les Savy Fav's drum kit. The sight of thirteen people on stage --- that's not even counting the audience members who had wandered on stage by this point ---banging on random instruments and shouting like banshees was unbelievable. When a couple of them started hanging off of the ceiling like wild apes, I seriously thought the show was going to turn into a full-scale riot. Les Savy Fav are the only rock band on this planet that deserves to ask the traditionally hip-hop question "Who rocks the party that rocks the body?" without a trace of irony. Put simply, this might have been the best show I'd seen all year.

---Sean Padilla

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