Webster Hall 10 November 2007
One of my favorite albums of 2007 thus far is Menomena's Friend and Foe. It is a deep mixture of psychedelic rock and fist-pumping anthemic glory with all sorts of heady musical ingredients. As far as rock and roll recipes go, it is like the chocolate chip cookie: just a perfect blend of deliciousness. But you know how sometimes you make cookies and you screw something up -- baking powder instead of baking soda, tablespoons instead of teaspoons? And then it just doesn't taste right? Well, unfortunately, the live version of Menomena -- at least as witnessed by me and the Big Squeeze Saturday night, was like all the ingredients were there except for one or two simple slip ups... and the result was something you're not sure you should just go ahead and swallow or just spit into your napkin. No, it wasn't good.
Sure, there were little moments of near-magic, when you could glimpse what could possibly be, but really, the show kinda stunk. I wasn't sure how they could bottle that orchestral sound up and reproduce it on the stage, especially with only three guys, and in the end they didn't. But it was more than that -- it was more than just not recreating the studio magic, because while it threw me off the trail of recognizability, I could have dealt with that, but also the band was not tight, the vocals were terrible and on and on. They even seemed to agree with me, sort of joking that they hadn't played together in years... maybe it was just an off night.
The best part of the show was late in the set when they brought a choir out to fill out the last few numbers. The first of these was a brilliant example of the potential as well as illustrating exactly how the rest of the night was so seriously lacking. The choir was interesting to look at as well -- there was nothing that tied the 4 women and 4 men together visually. They all looked so distinct and yet so different from each other. Weird. The experience of bringing a choir out was kind of strange because it added a weight of significance to a show that was otherwise barely a trifle. Like, if the band had brought it for the rest of their hour, it would have pushed it over the top, the culmination of guitars and bass and drums and saxophones and beautiful songsmanship. But as it was, it was kind of sad.
There was another angle to our time at Webster Hall that was entertaining in its own right. The sound, I will admit, was dialed in pretty nicely except for one piece -- the bass drum was cranked up so high that every time the drummer gave it a kick my shirt literally flapped a little for the breeze of the wave going by. It wasn't so much that you were hearing the drum, you felt your heart murmur in stress for the power overwhelming it with every pulse. It was like an extreme physics lesson -- sound is a compression wave passing through the air and the change in pressure, as dictated by the ideal gas law (you know, PV=nRT?) meant a change in temperature... yes, you could actually feel the air getting warmer every time the sound of the bass drum passed through your body. Utterly bizarre. It was a little disconcerting, nauseating and also kind of exhilirating -- the little hairs in your ear and on the back of your neck wiggling, nay, trembling in fear of the power of the bass drum. After the first few songs people were calling out "turn down the kick drum" -- but twas in vain. I can't remember being enveloped by bass like that in a long while, just totally overwhelming and distracting and kind of lovely. Too bad the music stunk.
We got there too late for Illinois -- one song. I like those guys. Too bad.
The nightcap was to be American Babies over at Ace of Clubs. That could have made the night, had they come on a bit earlier. We caught the first 4 or 5 tunes and then had to jet -- smartly parking the car in a spot that became illicit at 1am... else we might have stayed out much too late, and we wouldn't want that. The band is Tom Hamilton's new alt-country-rock outfit and features a bang-up band with Sir Joe Russo on the drums and Scott Metzger on guitar. They rock in an Uncle Tupelo-ish way: that is, not ear-splitting craziness, but subtle song-driven dollops of the good stuff. Lots of potential in this one, keep your eye out for 'em. The key is that the songs are good; add good songwriting to the Joe/Scott catalyst and you've got hot shit. While waiting for that, we survived a set by a band called "Visible From Space" which made my skin crawl for want of them getting off the stage.
I've been in a bit of a rut lately.
12 November 2007