I’ve gotten a bit backed up on rock show reports: here are a few capsules.
The Gomers. Rock Star Gomeroke: simple idea, brilliantly executed. Local band knows more or less every song ever. You go up on stage at the High Noon, tell them your song (specifying, if you want to, the key, tempo, that you want to sing “Beat It” polka-style, whatever) and then you sing like a loon, backed up by the pros. Every Tuesday night at 9, every other Friday at 5. It costs 5 bucks. For the nervous types, of whom I am one: performers vary widely in on-key-ness and stage moxie. And thanks to the lights you can’t actually see the people watching you. Up-tempo and big goes over better than delicate and nuanced. I’ve been twice: I sang “Pretty in Pink,” the week John Hughes died, and “Just What I Needed” last week. The latter is available on video for my Facebook friends.
Cover bands don’t have enough status. We accept as a given that the great plays and symphonies are part of our cultural inheritance, and that groups of performers should perform them for us — that the works being presented and interpreted again and again, in different places and forms, is part of what keeps them alive. Why don’t we have troupes of rock musicians performing Led Zeppelin IV in its entirety, every Monday night for a month? Wouldn’t this be more enjoyable, and teach us more about rock, than nine out of ten sort-of-original rock shows that actually take place? I think the Gomers are great and I think the city of Madison should give them a grant to form a repertory company. On the other hand, they seem to be doing fine for themselves dressing up as zombies and playing Beatles covers.
The Dandy Warhols. All I knew about this band was “they recorded the theme song for Veronica Mars” before I watched the surprisingly gripping documentary DIG! about their half-comedy, half-depressing-waste-of-time feud with the Brian Jonestown Massacre. (Watch DIG! free on Hulu.) Their show at the Majestic was free, sponsored by Jack Daniels, who I guess are trying to up their cool factor by affiliating with a band whose last US chart appearance was in 2000. All their songs sort of sound like other people’s songs — at various times I felt they were about to launch in to “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” or “Lithium,” or “White Wedding,” or, on multiple occasions, “Sister Ray.” You get the feeling that the band’s method is to start playing a cover and then keep damaging it until it’s their own song.
And this formula is 100% successful, just because these people are professionals and know what sounds good. As frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor wonderfully remarks in the movie, “I sneeze and hits come out.”
The Breeders. I was disturbed — no, really, disturbed! — when I realized I was familiar with only 42 of Pitchfork’s top 500 songs of the decade. I like to think I keep up. But what’s in fact meant by this is that I follow the current output of lots of bands who’ve been recording since the 1990s: the Mountain Goats, the Magnetic Fields, Belle & Sebastian, and the Breeders.
And the Breeders might as well be a new band — they record so seldom that each new release sounds like a debut. Here’s the great “Overglazed,” from their most recent album, which doesn’t sound a thing like old Breeders, or really like anybody:
Their set at the Majestic was heavy on old stuff, to the delight of the crowd. Who knew so many people remembered “Iris,” or “Divine Hammer?” The latter sounded terrific, drummed much more frantically than on record. Kim and Kelley Deal both seemed, well, tickled to be on stage playing with their new bandmates. You get the feeling they’ll be doing this until they’re 70, sloughing off and replacing the rhythm section every decade or so. I’ll keep seeing them as long as they keep playing.