As I was checking the elegantfaker email box today, a link to Unlock Austin popped up in the ad bar again. I duly followed it and much to my surprise, it looked like the site was live -- but it still had a strong whiff of phoniness about it. I was hesitant to register when I noticed a number of key venues (mostly of the Red River variety) missing from the live show calendar; furthermore a search for "alternative" shows in downtown Austin yielded no results. Just a smidge fishy, since, as we know, Austin is lousy with just as many uh, "alternative" bands as singer/songwriters and crappy bar bands.
Further down in the Google results (naturally), I started to find some interesting information, namely that Unlock City LLC is the new business venture of notorious spammer Ryan Pitylak (the information about the public document filings in the previous link is confirmed by the Texas Secretary of State filings for Unlock City LLC) who was sued to the tune of $500 million in damages by Microsoft and The State of Texas; the case was settled in June of this year and Pitylak paid a $1 million fine and promised to never send out spam again. Just a few short months later, Mr. Pitylak is trying to pass himself off as born-again, legitimate anti-spammer and runs a security business to help companies combat spam. Forgive me for being such a bitter cynic, but um, yeah right.
In the meantime, naturally, I'd highly discourage anyone from registering with Unlock Austin. (N.B.: At the time this post was published, a query message sent to Unlock Austin's Myspace had received no response.)
St. Barbara, don't let me explode*: The Hold Steady/Sean Na Na/Zykos @ Emo's, October 8, 2006
Well, things were supposed to get started at 9pm because they're implementing a new schedule over at Emo's. It ended up being more like regular ol' 11pm by the time the crowd was thick enough to merit getting a band on the stage. Zykos was a pretty inspired choice for a local opener and I was glad to see Sean Tillman back touring as Sean Na Na -- no word if he's given up the Har Mar Superstar manqué for good, though. The set was understandalby a little wobbly -- mostly made up of winners from last Sean Na Na album Her Majesty and an ill-advised full-band take on old favorite (as in, seven year old favorite -- yikes!) "The Princess and The Pony." One hopes, though, that the band will settle down somewhat (they were a bit more antagonistic and rowdy than was necessary). It is nice to see, though, that Mr. Tillman has not lost one ounce of his amazing stage presence, or his suaveness with a few adoring ladies in the crowd. (There's some new songs up at the band's MySpace page.)
Now, the interesting thing about The Hold Steady's set was that it completely and finally ripped open the bits of Boys and Girls In America that were still bugging me, and that's this: You just can't perform wordy, epic story songs for a crowd of fist pumping dudes in a venue with a cruddy PA that holds a couple hundred people. Well, you can, but it sounds like shit. Sitting up in the old lady bleachers (we were the only people up there at one point, which felt VERY weird, but hey, it gave us a nice view of the impossibly hot dude working the merch booth, but I digress...), this became plainly evident as the wonderfully complex lyrics of both the relatively low-key "Don't Let Me Explode" and wailer "Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night" were completely incomprehensible, even for someone who's listened to Separation Sunday more times than is probably healthy (My iTunes tells me um, close to 100, but that doesn't include car rides. Oof, I so didn't tell you that...). The main thing that became clear about the songs off B&GIA, though, was the following: 1) there are no verses, only annoying shout-along choruses, which I hadn't noticed before and explains yet again why they feel so empty, but hey, you can totally understand the words! and 2) they all kind of sound, not like Springsteen or Soul Asylum, as previously cited, but fucking Bruce Hornsby and The Range. Once Pinkie pointed this out to me, I was torn between tears (real ones, mind you) and hysterical laughter. Mostly because, when I was about 12, I really loved Bruce Hornsby and The Range. So, you know, you've been warned.
What it comes down to is this: The Hold Steady is a great band when they're on, or, you know, playing "The Swish" (the strongest moment of the evening, and the oldest song in the set) -- and when they're off, it's really, really bad.
We clamored down from the bleachers as soon as they started to play "Southtown Girls" -- which I'd warned Pinkie was the worst song on the record, and she agreed it was pretty bad (she said something along the lines of, "I may not like this band, but I can still tell a good song from a bad one") -- and fled before they could get to the really abysmal "Chillout Tent." It was 1:30am anyway by that point, and we didn't feel like getting swept into the afterparty either -- which, apparently, according to a bulletin sent out by the band on Myspace this morning, raged on and on and on until 5:45am. Um, congrats?
An interesting sidebar to this review: I collapsed in exhaustion when I got home from work Friday night and woke up to the strains of "Stuck Between Stations" coming from the radio -- local NPR affiliate KUT more specifically, which kind of weirded me out. Anyway, it was clear that airplay on the station brought out a few people -- it's not often you see um, techie millionaire types at Emo's. Seriously.
ps -- The weird press coverage of the album continues: The Village Voice, which devoted a cover story to the band last year, weighs in with this really strange profile.
*I hope if you have yet to see the band on this tour that Mr. Finn is telling the story of St. Barbara every night, because that was about the best part of the whole experience. Well, that and when Tad tried to play his double-necked monstrosity and the patch cable seemed to be dead, so the band vamped through the technical difficulty with a level of professionalism that was impressive, considering a good portion of the break consisted of them accosting a case of Tecate.
In High Demand Today:
Sean Na Na -- Give Me A B-Side. Because it's kind of a theme today. (site)
The Hold Steady -- The Swish. Because this will probably always be the best song Craig Finn wrote, with approx. 175 pop culture references in three minutes. Which kind of makes it he aural equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino film. (site)
The Wombats -- Patricia The Stripper. Up-and-coming UK indie group that like's like a much less refined Voxtrot -- which means that they're still good of course,and still quite clever, just upbeat in a slightly different way. Trust me. (Myspace)
New Young Pony Club -- Ice Cream (Comets Mix). Delicious, peppermint twist of a remix of this indie dance fave. You're welcome... (Myspace)
Polytechnics -- Headshaker. Sorry to be so UK-centric, but this buzzy little band out of Manchester is definitely worth hearing. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah would be more likeable if they were this coherent. Is this what happens when musical evolution speeds up to approx. 4.5 times normal speed? (site)
Ratatat -- Swisha (Drum Instrumental)[n.b. delayed due to file corruption]/Ratatat -- Swisha (Guitar Instrumental) . Go make me some mashups. Go on with you, now. (site)