My original enabler and co-conspirator chose to ditch me for Texas barbecue and other heartland delicacies, but I was able to rope in an old friend to help me brave the home of the hipsters for my third British Sea Power show of the trip. Thanks again, Sharon! Sorry I didn't warn you about the short pants beforehand.
British Sea Power, Music Hall of Williamsburg, May 11, 2008: Get off at Grand Central, take the 6 to Union Station, catch the L to Bedford, and walk a few blocks to the Music Hall of Williamsburg. If you have time, browse the racks at Academy Music.
Those were my instructions to get to this show. Besides being right on the money, they're words I don't hear much in California. Heck, even if I wanted to take BART to shows in Oakland or Berkeley, I rarely get the chance, as bands don't usually play more than one gig in the Bay Area on any given trip. Why do you think I went to Visalia?! Stupid manifest destiny!
Here's a blanket statement if ever there was one: I love introspective singer/songwriters and sad music in general, but the stuff that sends me usually combines the extremes--the loud and the soft, the pastoral and the rocking, the effete and the virile, the brash and the considerate, the ridiculous and the sublime. Tonight in Williamsburg, we had it all. And then some.
But let's back up a little. When I see a touring band more than once, I don't expect them to reinvent the wheel every night, though a few favorites did/do so (Pavement never repeated a setlist, and by now, you've heard plenty about that guy in Los Angeles). Prior to this outing, my single recollection of seeing British Sea Power more than once on the same tour led me to believe they didn't change up their set much. Of course, at the time, they had one album to promote, so their choices were limited. Five years and two albums later, they haven't veered too much from that formula, but they sneak in a classic or two every night.
And boy, what classics we got in Brooklyn. The first Yan prefaced by saying it was a song that felt right for a Sunday night, which paved the way for "Childhood Memories," one of the tunes (along with "The Lonely") I've rediscovered in the last couple of months. I always cite Echo and the Bunnymen as the influence I hear most prominently in British Sea Power's music (especially in the ad-lib section of "Oh Larsen B" live), but the Smiths' sway has recently jumped out at me, especially on this song. Sorry, I hate to namecheck, but in this case, it's not a bad thing to be reminded of one of my favorite bands of all time.
The band saved the other chestnut until nearly the end of the night. They hadn't played this one, apparently, in two years, but regardless of the time frame, I was thrilled to hear "Lately," especially now that I can fully enjoy its sprawling, chaotic glory. I mean, I've always loved it, just because it meant that anarchy beckoned, but my appreciation of it as a song has skyrocketed. "Lately," of course, bled into "A-Rock," which--well, at least they weren't bleeding by the end of this one.
It occurs to me that in my blinding fascination with this band that what I see as humor and eccentricity might come across as preciousness to others. Certainly, they've toned down their sartorial choices, and the pastoral touches aren't a part of their show anymore. But their music, especially the first album, has always undercut any suspicions about tweeness, and all other doubts are vanquished as soon as you them. The awkward games of unilateral hopscotch, the unsuspecting arms and shoulders recruited for interactive tomfoolery, and the general clamoring and clawing are not the signs of a fey, retreating band. Rather, they're the calling cards for a band that doesn't think pratfalls have to take away from a performance.
Anyway, that's my long-winded and affected way of saying, HOLY SHIT, THEY TORE THE MOTHERFUCKING ROOF OFF THE PLACE. Excuse the shouting, but I can honestly say that was the best British Sea Power gig I've ever seen. On the musical side, we got Phil adding a playful touch of omnichord to "No Lucifer" and Abi sounding beautiful on "Waving Flags." And there's no disregarding the artful swell and wane of all those favorite tracks.
Topping off the musical goodness, however, was the kind of physical display that makes me swoon and grin at the same time. Look up in the sky--it's Nobby going over your head, perhaps on his own accord, scaling whatever piece of the room that can support him, or with the help of various audience members lifting him through the crowd. On stage, Phil's moved away from his station to thrash and strum, Hamilton's hopping around, and Yan's digging in. Nobby's returned to share a microphone -- and maybe some saliva? -- with Hamilton, but once he moved off, Abi joined in instead (for the singing, that is).
Finally at the end of the night, when the devastation had been wrought and Yan tripped over a fallen mic stand to land directly in Hamilton's lap, Nobby twisted it all into a big ol' bow. No, he didn't help his friends up; rather, he grabbed their limbs and attempted to swing them from side to side -- as one does. You couldn't have wished for another outcome.
Both Jeffrey Lewis and the Rosebuds opened for British Sea Power once again, and they were especially awesome tonight. Jeffrey was accompanied by Abi on several songs, and her playing added a wonderfully soulful touch to his simple compositions. He also showed a "documentary" about the history of Rough Trade Records, which struck a sweet chord, especially since I first saw him open up for another labelmate.
The Rosebuds played to an appreciative audience peopled by many fans who came expressly to see them. I've liked the band since I first saw them open for Teenage Fanclub, and I was glad that they joined the bill for this tour. I'm looking forward to their new album, due this summer.
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