Taking Lessons from Miniature Tigers

“I should be on Charlie’s list?” I say, a lilt in my voice that infers that I am unsure.  A petite girl scans a white piece of paper and hands me a blue sticker.  “This gets you upstairs,” she says.  I walk through the darkened stairwells of Webster Hall, arriving at a mezzanine cantilevered over a crowd I am normally a part of.  I watch them walk with their cups filled with alcohol, all waiting for the buzz to kick in, the welcome fuzziness of not having to think, thick like the foam on top of their beers.

On stage, a curly haired girl in a 70s jumper writhes on the floor, bringing to mind a pre-famous Katy Perry, playing for A & R reps in small, glamourless rooms.  The upstairs floor gives with the weight of us on it, as well as the motion of those below, creating a trampoline-effect in a building I would prefer to remain stationary.

Charlie is there attempting to enjoy whatever time he has before he takes the stage as the lead singer of Miniature Tigers, a band I have been following for the last few years, back when Charlie only had a demo and a Myspace page.  He is wearing a bulky red coat made out some something reminiscent of felt.  He has grown out his beard in an abridged version of something Kurt Cobain might have sported while he was still of the living, sleeping in Seattle and playing guitar in a ripped up hoodie.

The last show I saw of Charlie’s was nearly a year and a half ago, in the hall of a hip, renovated motel that left condoms and earplugs on the bedside table.  I know; I stayed there.  Before that, I had caught him in a tiny venue in LA, on the eastern portion of Sunset Boulevard.  Since then, then has toured the country and had his last album produced by Neon Indian.  This is a thing evolving.

We talk for as long as we can about touring, Brooklyn, whatever.  This is the last stop on their tour, an experience Charlie seems to have rather enjoyed.  I am happy to see him here, about to play for a big New York City crowd on a stage I think he deserves.

He takes off, disappearing from the mezzanine and appearing on the stage below, tuning his guitar and wandering the stage.  The filler music dies down and the lights dim.  Miniature Tigers plays, flanked by paper tulips and awash in green lights.  “You guys are lovely,” Charlie says, just a leader singer to a crowd of people who don’t know him.

The band dives into music that is perfect in its awkwardness.  The beats that are nearly right but nearly wrong, the pitch of Charlie’s voice.  I watch the crowd bob their heads below and I am overcome with the pride of someone else’s accomplishments.  We are all just waiting for our tipping points, the moments when life suddenly catches up to us, when all of the decisions we have made over the course of our lives seem to amount to something greater than the unnoticed catalysts they had been in the past.

Photo courtesy of LAist.com

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Delayed Music Review: Surfer Blood and Drums at Webster Hall

Is it just me or does this band make you feel old?

My friend leans in from behind me as Surfer Blood jams on stage in the most visually awkward combination of personalities and outfits I’ve seen in a long time.  It was true: they all seemed to be under the legal drinking age.  And we old hags of yore stood there, crawling near the cusp of thirty, watching with booze in hand.  It’s only going to get worse, I think to myself as I take another sip of cheap red wine.

Surfer Blood is one of those pseudo-Beach Boys, happy pants bands that you can imagine a modern day Annette Funicello shaking her groove thing to on some beach in Santa Monica.  Before arriving this evening, I had never seen a photograph or a video, but I assumed they would accurately represent their sound in an aesthetic fashion – as bands are want to do.  This band does not cooperate with such expectations.

I stare at the stage, wondering why their performance is bothering me so much.  There is something about the lead singer that smacks of a nerdy, button-up version of Brandon Flowers from The Killers (the Kanye West of pop/ rock music, in my opinion) – the dramatic swagger, the palpable confidence.  With Flowers, however annoying it might have been, the act seemed to fit The Act, if you know what I mean.  Watching Surfer Blood’s lead singer waltz with himself and a guitar on stage in a button-up and jeans, quieting his movements during slower bits and aching for the chorus line, just doesn’t pair up well with their sound.  I guess I was just expecting an introverted nerd.  But that’s my problem, I suppose.

The set is good enough, though not memorable.  The highlights being the same highlights of the album, the performance not able to bring to life any of the maybe sleeper hits.  My friend sums it up nicely when, after finishing up a dance-in-place dance-off to “Take It Easy,” he says, “That’s the jam, man.  That’s like going to see The Big Pink and not dancing to ‘Dominos.’”  Surfer Blood is kind of like that sort-of-solid one-hit band that makes you boogie for a week or two during summer until you find something better.  It’s not necessarily deep enough to solicit any further attachment.

Headlining this evening’s show is the band Drums, a charming group of skinny nothings I first fell in love with for their video “Let’s Go Surfing.”  Also part of bon-fire-on-the-beach music movement, the leader singer makes it clear that all they are making is pop music, shouting often, “This is just pop music!” as if to garner some sort of sympathy from the crowd or make himself feel better for creating more needless fluff for the universe.

Visually, the band confuses me less.  They are all smartly dressed and gel nicely in my brain’s understanding of style.  The lead singer sports a maroon satin jacket that catches the light as he bounds around the stage like Gumby, moving boneless limbs and painting rainbows with his hips.

The singer’s arrogance is more clearly articulated in this live performance.  True, the album does showcase the lyrical inklings of a winy brat, but in the flesh I am struck by how much he resembles a spoiled kid on Christmas morning, complaining that he wanted forty video games that year, not thirty-nine.  He reminds me of a more articulate, clean, and refined version of Johnny Rotten, saying things to the crowd like, “This is about a girl I hate very much,” before launching into a tune, or versions of his favorite self-deprecating/ arrogant comment about pop music with things like, “This is pop music.  Nothing more, nothing less.”  After hearing this a few times while watching him sache across the stage with a Been There, Done That type of boredom, I begin to think that maybe the joke is on his fans, and he is merely serving a product he has no real faith or stock in.

That’s not to say it was a bad show.  In fact, it was quite enjoyable…you know, for pop music.

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LCD Soundsystem – Webster Hall

We manage to snake through the crowd, settling in a spot I would classify under the heading “Pretty Damn Good.”  Our positioning for the glory that is LCD Soundsystem is about five feet away from the stage and directly under some serious speakers.  It is clear by the end of the first song if I don’t purchase some protection in the form of bright orange expandable foam, my ears are going to be permanently wrecked within the hour.  As much as I would love to listen to this band unfiltered and unadulterated, I still want to be able to hear the coos of my future grandchildren in fifty years.

Boys in plaid tune instruments onstage.  All of them are fairly nondescript, Brooklyn dudes.  A little round around the edges, hip because they’re not hip at all, that type of thing.  After I’m done staring at the man wearing all tan and a perfectly groomed and hallowed, half-visible cheekbones, I turn my attention to people behind me.  For the most part, the demographic tonight is predominately male, an observation I find surprising because I never thought of LCD as being the purveyors of theme songs for testosterone.

The lights come down and everyone takes that as their cue to get real enthused.  A few of the boys that I thought were roadies are actually in the band.  Keeping it real, as it were.  The rest of the band comes out in pieces.  The petite Asian keyboarder with pretty black hair that gets matted and clumpy by the end of the set, heavy and damp with sweat.  The drummer reminds me of someone from the Mamas and the Papas for whatever reason.

When James Murphy, the lead singer, comes out, I am surprised.  He has dishwater blonde hair – the thick kind that is hard for boys to figure out what to do with; it’s not thin enough to style, it’s not curly enough to fro-pick it, it’s just…there.  His shoots forward, straight past his forehead, pitching out and down like the edge of a cliff.  He is a little out of shape and older than I imagined.  None of this is distracting or bad or relevant in the slightest.  What threw me the most is realizing I didn’t have a preconceived picture in my head for LCD at all before I saw them.  There are some bands that so well articulate how you feel at a particular moment in life, whether through a song or, if you’re lucky, through an entire album, that their voice essentially commandeers your own.  Your memories are not narrated by your own account of things, but through the lyrics of a song or the thudding of a baseline.  Seeing a band in the flesh is like seeing your thoughts personified, the soundtrack of your life physically manifested.

I can’t remember what they perform first.  LCD’s songs are long-winded dance epics that are so masterfully crafted they read like three act plays.  The entire night becomes this series of seven-minute stories that I can only ride beside, dancing in a sea of people who change colors on the whim of lighting cues.  The wood floor beneath us groans with the weight of bouncing bodies and when I stand still I feel like I am on a wooden trampoline.

When the opening beats of “Someone Great” pulses through the speakers, I am immediately hopping up and down even though the song doesn’t call for more than agreeable techno soft shoeing.  The lyrics, like most of his lyrics, are simple and repetitive and they simultaneously resonate with both exuberance of youth and the wisdom of old age.  I feel like I’m listening to the process of growing up.

Something I’m kind of doing right now.

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