You don't want to know the cross-country maneuvers considered before this date emerged as the last show of British Sea Power's North American tour. Or maybe I don't want to say. But I'm glad I made it. And because I occasionally feel the need to produce noises that might convince other people (read: myself) that I don't have problems, let's get this out of the way: I didn't go to Boston, Buffalo, or Pittsburgh, OK?! (Oh, but how I wish I had.)
British Sea Power, Maxwell's, May 19, 2008: You know that book 1000 Places to See Before You Die? I'd like to write the music world equivalent: say, 100 rock clubs to visit before you become a yuppie and move to the 'burbs (i.e., die). In fact, it'd make a fine companion piece to my proposed coffee-table book on setlists. Anyway, Maxwell's in Hoboken, without a doubt, is on that roster, and it's about time I found out for myself. I'm somewhat surprised that it took a British Sea Power show to get me out here, but better late than never.
I pay plenty of lip service to the Second Night Rule, but a corollary to that is the End of Tour Show--see it if you can! This is a principle I don't get to test out often since (1) that guy in L.A. doesn't tour, and (2) I'm pretty picky about venues, thus precluding many gigs put on by that band out of Chicago. Instead, I usually have to hope a band I like chooses to end its run in San Francisco--not bloody likely, lemme tell you.
But I'm not limited to seeing gigs in my hometown, and that's the whole point of stretching out my "vacation" to take in this show. My already high expectations for this concert were shattered by the time the show ended, in a chaotic mix of roadie standup, nearly 20 minutes and multiple waves of "A-Rock" pandemonium, and more piggyback rides than a four-year-old's birthday party.
First off, I want to say that Maxwell's lives up to its legendary billing. You can have your state-of-the-art, pristine mausoleum of sound--I'll take these dark, tiny caves any day. In fact, British Sea Power's decorative flags looked especially bright against the pitch-black stage. I often wonder how U.K. bands feel about playing such small rooms over here when they could be selling out much larger spaces back home, though I suppose these intimate dates can be a treat--or, at least, an adventure, especially for groups as renowned for their live shows as British Sea Power.
In any case, the band betrayed no trepidation, despite lots of problems with the monitors and mics, kicking out "Atom" as the opener of a fairly run-of-the-mill setlist (on paper anyway). Actually, that's my only and very minor complaint about the show. Sure, we got "Open the Door" again, but they left off the magnificent "True Adventures," especially appropriate for tonight's full moon. And speaking of Open Season, I love that "Oh Larsen B" has found its way back to the nightly rotation. They need to play that one as often as possible.
I've devoted a lot of blog space to "Impossible Germany" and the way it lights up just about every Wilco show I see. "The Great Skua" belongs in that same category. Its beautifully rendered gravitas anchors each gig, a contrast to the tumult to come. If anyone ever doubts the band's musicianship, they need only listen to that song; it's a four-minute miracle.
Don't let this staid account fool you; from the beginning, all signs pointed to an especially loose, goofy show--even by BSP's standards. A notice at the merch booth alerted shoppers to the evening's fire sale, as the band tried to dump as many superfluous items as possible before they flew home. If you weren't aware of this before the show began, Nobby aired a reminder early in the set, when he removed his shoes and offered them for $2 each, with the promise that more items would be available later. (He ended up giving his loafers away gratis.)
Back onstage, the band repeatedly called their tour manager to the mic to tell jokes, and they engaged in tons of banter with the crowd and one another. They granted a request for "Open the Door" to a particularly faithful fan, though at the same time, Yan shot down a bunch of audience-submitted suggestions, claiming his choices would ultimately win out. Yan sort of jinxed himself, though; immediately following this declaration, he stumbled through the first lines of "Canvey Island" as the giggles overtook him. Meanwhile, Nobby acted the diplomat, advising the guy who wanted to hear "The Spirit of St. Louis" to wait about about six more songs.
All this exposition is my way of putting off the hugely daunting task of trying to capture the dangling disarray. We got hints of it during "The Spirit of St. Louis," when the gesticulating kid behind me (who also happened to elbow me in the head--though he apologized for it--in his earlier attempts at "dancing") stepped up to the mic Nobby had set out at the front of the stage and tried to interject some non sequiturs during the quiet part of the song, only to be shushed by Nobby himself. The tune itself was especially awesome, though, as Nobby sidled up to Woody, and the two of them attacked the song's opening thunderclap.
As ever, though, anarchy ascended during "A-Rock." Though "Spirit of St. Louis" got the ball rolling, moving Nobby to scale the speaker and play the guitar on his back before taking down the flags, the deluge hit with "A-Rock." Here, Nobby made several forays into and out of the crowd--sometimes on his own two feet, sometimes not; sometimes alone, sometimes with company.
I wish I had eyes in the back of my head because for the next 20 minutes, every corner of the room saw some action. The remaining band members mostly stayed up front, picking up different instruments than they usually play: Yan on keyboard and cornet, Abi and Phil on guitar. Jeffrey Lewis joined them for a stretch before being carted away by--like you need to ask?--Nobby, who, in turn, dragged an audience member or two back to the stage with him. Their sound guy also broke through the crowd to play guitar while wearing a couple of cardboard boxes (think Flight of the Conchords' "Robots" costume).
Hamilton remained on bass for much of this derangement, but he gave it up at some point and, after a long while perched at the stage's edge, tumbled back into the crowd. We supported him as best as we could, but I'm not sure how he did after the first several layers of people. All I know is that I looked back at some point, and he was on his feet, hopping up and down with a very amused concert-goer.
A little after that, probably while I was watching Nobby engaged in some other drunken caper, I felt a couple of bodies pushing toward the stage--it was Hamilton again, with Abi slung over his shoulder in the classic "me Tarzan, you Jane" arrangement. But that was only the beginning. Once they got to the stage, she urged him to climb on her back, an offer he didn't refuse, and the two of them twirled dizzily in front of us. The ride wasn't over, though; Hamilton soon jumped over to Phil, who had been thrashing away on a guitar. Hammy clung on for a stretch before standing up on Phil's back to touch the low ceiling. I can't recall how events unfolded after this, but there's no way I'll forget Hamilton planting a piece of duct tape on Paul's forehead as he left the stage.
During this episode, a half dozen audience members had rushed the stage, some to play instruments, others to gawk. But with the barrier grandly and irrevocably broken by the band members themselves, it hardly mattered. It was one big party.
Pragmatically, I'd say the Brooklyn show, which mixed an amazing setlist with the band's trademark hijinx, was the best balanced of this run, while the Manhattan gig was their most technically accomplished. Philly, for that matter, was no slouch either. And hey, who can forget those early California dates? But when I think back to this tour, I'll inevitably land on two dates: Visalia and Hoboken. The gigs themselves couldn't have been more different, but in both instances, I saw a band unlike any other on the face of the earth.
Chicken or egg: Does liking certain musicians lead me to see them in concert so often, or does seeing certain musicians so often make them my favorites? It's likely the former, but oddly, the repetition exacerbates those feelings, instead of decreasing them. It helps that those musicians I've latched on to have made live shows an integral part of their schedules, so I don't lack for opportunities to get my gig fix. Unfortunately, I can't claim this privilege with British Sea Power. I'm not about to see them in England (to the best of my knowledge?), and it's hard to say when they'll return to the States. As always, I'm glad I indulged while I could. Come back soon, British Sea Power!
Jeffrey Lewis opened the show tonight, accompanied by a full band. They performed a few songs from the Crass album, as well as Jeffrey's own tunes. As with Abi in Brooklyn, his seemingly simple songs revealed their depths and possibilities when bolstered by other instruments. He sounded great tonight.
Note: The sounds from this night were expertly captured by nyctaper. Download it now!
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