Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Can you hear me? I'm beating on your wall

[The Walkmen + Japandroids + Dan Mangan @ Clubhouse Music Venue, Tempe 09/17/10]

Chase says everything in Arizona is in a strip mall. That's not quite true. Sometimes it seems like it is though.

Take last Friday night. Sam and I were driving through Tempe in his once-Tabor-owned beast to the Clubhouse Music Venue. Perhaps I'm spoiled by the provincial authentic venues of Tucson, which are situated where you'd expect them: in the heart of the town city's nightlife. But I experienced a kind of cognitive dissonance when I realized the Walkmen and Japandroids would be playing smack-dab in the middle of a strip mall--between Los Favoritos Taco Shop, a sports bar, a 7-11, and an Army recruiting center. Sam said, "Oh there it is" and clearly there it was: "The Clubhouse" in big red letters. But I told him, no, this was not it, because it could not be. It was, of course, it.

Inside was better than expected and essentially split into two halves. The back half was dominated by a huge semi-circle bar facing away from the stage (so that, when leaning against the bar, you face the stage, if that makes sense). The windows to the parking lot were 100% blacked out, which helped me ignore the whole strip-mall business. And it was pretty dark inside, which for whatever reason seemed appropriate.


A few minutes after 8 PM a bearded fellow in a plaid shirt with an acoustic guitar walked on stage. He was accompanied by three other fellows playing electric guitar, stand-up bass, and drums. But, I thought, Japandroids are a lo-fi punk duo, not an acoustic/folk/rock band. The mystery bearded fellow and his friends immediately launched into an enjoyably rollicking, slightly bluesy, folk-influenced rock.

I should clarify that the electric guitarist, too, sported a beard and a plaid shirt, but while the acoustic guitarist had a fresh-faced college-kid look, the electric guitarist looked like he'd spent his fair share of days in dive bars. Also, he was perhaps the second-most compelling guitarist I've seen live (next to Nels Cline): seriously fantastic though surprisingly business-like, considering most eyes were glued to him when he'd start riffing. The acoustic-guitar-playing bearded fellow sang with a straightforward baritone tinged by the occasional bluesy-guttural.

It was probably three songs before this beard revealed that he was Dan Mangan, and a middle-aged lady in the crowd informed Sam that he was a solo act with a backing band. Well, we enjoyed the whole band thoroughly, though both of us had a premonition that his studio stuff would be a letdown--me because the trendiness made me cautious, Sam perhaps because the Dodos previewed the "awesome-acoustic-guitar-live-rocker, hum-ho-so-so live acoustic rock album" earlier this summer. And indeed Nice, Nice, Very Nice is just good, not great. Though it turns out the Canadians think better.

Check out this old, pre-sweet-guitarist live version of "Road Regrets"  or this recent performance of "Post-War Blues" (guitarist showcased for about forty seconds starting a minute in).


What to say about Japandroids? They are, in fact, a lo-fi punk duo. The lead guitarist had a fan (the air-blowing kind, not the music-loving kind) positioned so as to blow his hair when he leaned into the mike to sing. He spent about half the show straddling the drum monitor. He played a lot of power chords. The brief smile and goofy wave of acknowledgment that endearingly followed each song rather made up for the pretension, though.

Halfway through the set Sam said, "They're like a battering ram. They just keep playing til you like them." That was when they were playing "Rockers East Vancouver," which I rather enjoyed, if only because the power chords are noticeably spaced in a way that makes it clear that he's actually playing something. Of course, they kept playing until you no longer remembered what it was you briefly liked. They closed with "Young Hearts Spark Fire." Sam said, "Haven't they played this song before? Like four or five times?" But seriously.

The young hearts in attendance were indeed sparking fire. I noted a disproportionate number of sixteen-year-old boys having a great time. They formed a moderate mosh-pit, and often thrust their fists in the air. I noted that not one of said fists lacked a black X. And clearly these souls wanted to worry not about dying but about those sunshine girls.


If I were to create a hierarchy of shows, it would go something like this: disappointing, adequate/good, excellent, world-historical (Hegel joke!) spectacular. Both shows I saw this summer, for example (Thao and Mirah, the Dodos and the New Pornographers), would probably register in high reaches of adequate/good category, with all of them save Mirah almost edging into excellent.

The last clearly excellent show I saw was probably Wilco and Grizzly Bear at Centennial Hall in the summer of 2009. And I have only been to two truly spectacular shows: Sufjan at Calvin College in Grand Rapids in the spring of 2007, Andrew Bird and Grizzly Bear at the MusicNOW festival in Cincinatti in the spring of 2008 (Sigur Rós in the fall of 2009 comes very close, though).

I'm not quite ready to say the Walkmen were spectacular. But I'm almost ready.

This was clearly the best crowd I've been a part of in Arizona. Tons of enthusiasm and energy, quite a bit of dancing, and some singing/shouting along to older material. The video embedded below reflects that.

For the life of me I cannot recall which song the Walkmen opened with. I want to say "Canadian Girl." I do know their second song was "Angela Surf City," which got things going, followed quickly by "In the New Year," which made it a party.

Sam says he hasn't wanted to dance so much at a show, and I have to concur. I dance move around much more than most people at most shows, but here I was pretty much out of control for about the whole show.

They played "Victory" and "Postcards from Tiny Islands" directly after those three, and then I lost track. "On the Water" and "Little House of Savages" and "All my Great Designs" and "We've Been Had" and "Woe is Me" and "Another One Goes By" and a lot more. The opening guitar lines of "Juveniles" and "Blue as Your Blood" set me rocking out to a new pitch. Couldn't stop singing, "You're one of us / or one of them" and "Black is the color of your eyes / Spanish is the language of your touch." Naturally they did not play "Stranded" or "Red Moon," both of which strongly depend on gorgeous horn arrangements.

They made us work for the encore. We worked.

Lead guitarist Paul Maroon came out with lead singer Hamilton Leithauser, and the two played an intimate version of an intimate song, "New Country." I thought that one song might be it, and it would have been a beautiful ending. But the rest of the band came out!

We danced angrily. We shouted "YOU'VE GOTTA NERVE" and "CAN'T YOU HEAR ME / I'M.... BEATING ON YOUR WALL!!!" Only caps and italics and underlining and red color and larger font and three (3) exclamation marks can really convey how out-of-control I/we was/were. I accidentally punched a nice, portly fellow in the shoulder. He immediately forgave me, for the rage of the crowd now was paradoxically quite good-natured. I probably flung sweat over everyone around, which might have been distressing were not the whole night blessed with the spittle of Hamilton Leithauser. We sang "now I go out alone if I go out at all."

The encore went on for two more songs I thoroughly enjoyed and yet have forgotten. C'est la vie, as people who wish they spoke French say. I soaked my shirt from collar to crotch, and I stomped my feet into useless clubs.