April 08, 2003

Live Report: Bloodthirsty Lovers, The Baptist Generals, Pearly Gates, Emo's, Austin, TX 4/30/03

This evening, I went to my second home, also known as Emo's, to see the Bloodthirsty Lovers, the new band of ex-Grifters front man Dave Shouse. The last time they visited Austin, they opened for Enon and blew them clean off the stage. I had to see Shouse's band again, even if they played the same set that they did last time, because their live show is much better than their recorded material. They're still touring off of their self-titled debut album, which Frenchkiss Records recently re-released. Shouse recorded the album without the help of a backing band, so in lieu of an actual drummer, he used a lot of corny preset loops for the beats of his songs. Because of such, the album occasionally sounds like those bad "cyber-punk" albums that people like Billy Idol made during the early nineties. This is a shame because the songs themselves are almost uniformly great, and the Bloodthirsty Lovers make them come alive on stage. Shouse handles both guitar and keyboard with equal agility, the drummer manages to pull off the most complicated "junglist" rhythms on a standard kit, without any sort of programming aids, and the third guy is an even better pianist than Shouse is! Shouse really should've re-recorded the first album with his backing band instead of re-releasing the original version.

Anyway, the first band on the bill was a local trio by the name of Pearly Gates. They were a drum-less trio consisting of guitar, sampler, and piano,
and they played a set of ambient, religiously tormented alt-country. I say "religiously tormented" because almost every song had a reference to brimstone, hellfire, demons, and other similarly delightful things (sarcasm alert). On some songs, the guitarist's vocals were replaced with samples from porn flicks and television evangelists. It was very disconcerting to hear the blasphemous juxtaposition of a woman moaning in ecstasy with some guy ranting about "Gee-HO-vuh" in a thick Southern twang. Once I tuned that out, though, I noticed how truly talented each of its musicians were. The guitarist would make an excellent country singer, and the pianist just HAD to be classically trained. Some of the songs weren't up to snuff, though, relying on very standard and overused chord progressions. The absence of a drummer definitely hurt those songs. Once their writing skills catch up to their conceptual skills, the Pearly Gates should be able to make a splash. There certainly isn't any other group in recent memory that I could compare them to, and that's always a plus.

The second band, the Baptist Generals, were the unexpected highlight of the night. I knew that they were from Denton because I would always see their name on local bills, but I never got the chance to check them out. I should've done so much earlier, though, because they were great! They had an acoustic instrumental setup consisting of guitar, guitarron (a huge instrument that looks like a balalaika and sounds like an upright bass), an extremely minimal drum kit, and an organ that was charmingly out of tune with the rest of the instruments. They sounded like one of those makeshift country bands that would set up and perform right outside of a saloon in some imaginary Western flick. As it turns out, their latest album No Silver/No Gold WAS recorded live to eight-track on a storefront in Denton. This band also has to its advantage one of the most memorable vocalists in recent memory, guitarist and main songwriter Chris Flemmons. He has the kind of voice that will irritate you when you first hear it, but once you get used to the music, you won't be able to imagine anyone else BUT him singing on top of it. It's a high, reedy, uncooperative voice that strains to reach almost every note it attempts, which makes Chris sound like he's in the middle of a never-ending panic attack. It doesn't help that his eyes also look like they're about to pop out of their pockets when he sings. The Baptist Generals' set was inexcusably short, but they played one great rustic folk song after another. I spent my last twelve dollars at the merchandise table because I couldn't fathom going back to Waco without their album to keep me company.

Of course, the Bloodthirsty Lovers were fantastic. Their set was almost the same as the one they played the last time they were in Austin, with a couple of newer and better songs added. The new songs do a good job of bringing their rock and electronic sides together. One of them had an extremely difficult time signature, and sounded like the Mahavishnu Orchestra attempting vocal-based IDM. During the set, Shouse gave us an anecdote about his friends in the North Mississippi All-Stars, who also happened to be on tour at the time. "See, my friends' band is getting popular enough that they're starting to attract groupies who want to hang out on the tour bus with them. My friends have found the perfect music to play for every occasion when the groupies are around. When they want the groupies to…you know, get LOOSE, they put on Snoop Dogg's first album. When they want the groupies to leave, they put on the Strokes' record. This next song is in tribute to Snoop Dogg. It's our soundtrack to a malt liquor commercial." Sure enough, the instrumental that followed was a near-perfect recreation of 1970s blaxploitation funk. You wouldn't think that the same man who released the shambling, off-key dirges of Ain't My Lookout (my favorite Grifters album) seven years ago would be capable of pulling off anything close to funk. Then again, Shouse IS from Memphis. The drummer played so skillfully that the bouncers at Emo's started taking turns running the door so that the others could stand in front of the stage to watch him. I'd think that the bouncers of such a prominent rock club have seen way too many bands walk through its doors to be easily impressed. This time, though, they just HAD to give the Bloodthirsty Lovers their props. Bring on the second album, guys!

---Sean Padilla

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