May 09, 2006

Live Review: Old Time Relijun @ Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton, TX (4/28/06)

I’ve noticed a pattern. Since I became old enough to drink, every birthday of mine that has fallen on a weekend has been spent at Rubber Gloves. Four years ago, I saw Of Montreal there on my 21st birthday, and two weeks ago I saw voodoo-punk stalwarts Old Time Relijun on my 25th birthday. Both were excellent shows that found me dancing my cares away with a cherry vodka sour in my hand. At this rate, I’m looking forward to spending my 29th birthday in Denton!

The Old Time Relijun show didn’t begin auspiciously, though. The opening act, a trio from Buffalo called Lemuria, played dramatic punk-pop that reminded me of early Rainer Maria. Every single element of their sound seemed to have something wrong with it. The drummer’s rhythms were creative, but his playing wasn’t steady. The guitarist played some interesting chords and had a pleasant voice, but her strumming was sloppy and she didn’t project. The bassist played through a distortion pedal, but his instrument actually sounded louder when he DIDN’T use it. The combination of the sound man’s bad mix and the band’s rushed playing made the (admittedly decent) songs fall short of their potential.

Thus, it was up to Houston quartet Bring Back the Guns to get the audience moving. I first saw this band live two years ago in their hometown, and I loved them then. They were much better this evening, though. Their playing was tighter, their stage presence was more intense, and their songs no longer felt like works in progress. They started with “Radio Song ‘04,” the epic centerpiece of their upcoming debut Dry’s Future, which they played almost every song from. Rhythm guitarist Matt Brownlie played the song’s opening arpeggio while standing in the audience. When he leapt on stage to deliver the opening refrain “I say the same thing over and over,” it officially became on like Donkey Kong in our lives. Their Pixies-gone-math-rock sound made room for many abrupt meter changes, squealing guitar melodies and dizzying feats of full-band syncopation. Through it all, Matt served as the band’s insane conductor. When he wasn’t yelping and thrashing away at his guitar, he was wandering around the stage, clapping to the music...and occasionally slapping himself upside the head! BBTG got a great reception from the audience, and they deserved it.

The third band on the bill was Kind of Like Spitting. The last time I saw KOLS, they were an acoustic duo that padded its set with Phil Ochs covers; their latest album, The Thrill of the Hunt, is a solo acoustic affair. For this evening’s set, though, frontman Ben Barnett strapped on an electric guitar, and was joined by a bassist and a drummer. This power trio played a set of songs that sounded like a cleaner version of Dinosaur Jr. Barnett sang in a cracked yet expressive voice, and never forgot to make room in his songs for a long guitar solo. Barnett was the Thermals’ original guitarist when they were a quartet, but seeing him crank out power chords during their South by Southwest 2003 showcase didn’t prepare me for the lyrical solos that he unleashed this evening with his own band. I also appreciated Barnett’s stage banter. Anyone who gives his songs titles like “Why I Smoke Mad Weed” and “If the Shoe Fits, Cut the Foot Off” has got to have a sense of humor, and Barnett made me laugh on many occasions.

After Old Time Relijun set up their equipment, singer/guitarist Arrington de Dionyso stripped down to his underwear. The ladies who accompanied me to the show couldn’t stop staring at him; one in particular made comment after comment about his crotch. “I almost want to introduce myself and shake his hand,” she said, “just so that I can say I shook the hand of a half-naked man in public!” Immediately after she said that, Arrington checked his microphone by doing 15 seconds of Tuvan throat singing. The sounds that came out of his mouth made the ladies’ jaws hit the floor. “He must be some kind of insane genius,” my friend concluded. The rest of the band hadn’t played a single note yet.

Once Arrington played the opening riff to “Cold Water,” the show turned into the weirdest dance party I’ve seen all year. Arrington looked and sounded like he was possessed by James Chance and Pat Place simultaneously. He unleashed immeasurably intense grunts and wails, while running a slide up and down the neck of his guitar like he was caught in a violent game of tug-of-war. His drummer played simple but creative rhythms that suggested what Meg White would sound like if she knew about eighth notes and polyrhythms. A third member triple duty on percussion, saxophone and clarinet, but I couldn’t hear him no matter what instrument he played. He never stood close enough to the microphone! However, I heard the stand-up bassist very well. His funky, wandering lines kept the rest of the band tethered to the groove. NO ONE in the club stood still or sat down. Not only were the ladies getting down, but they were also taking pictures of themselves getting down. You know you’re doing a good job when that happens! Even the guys with no rhythm managed to start what might have been the most polite mosh pit I had ever seen at a show. People were running into each other, and holding hands while doing so! Old Time Relijun played almost every song I wanted to hear from their last two albums, 2012 and Lost Light. Their set was the perfect climax for my birthday! I almost wanted to buy one of the baby tees that they had for sale, but I don’t think my mother would’ve enjoyed the sight of my two-year-old foster brother wearing a tee with a crude drawing of a lizard-headed ghost on it.

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