Though I have no qualms traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles for a concert, the prospect of dragging myself off the couch and catching a couple of buses across town to get to a gig can sometimes be daunting. It helps, though, when I know that a group of good friends, one of my all-time music heroes, and a great club await me at the end of my journey. That may sound like a tall order, but it can be achieved--as evidenced by the Cribs in their visit to Bimbo's 365 Club.
The Cribs, Bimbo's 365 Club, January 27, 2010: The memory may have faded by now, but it was pouring rain the day before the Cribs' show at Bimbo's. Ordinarily, it would've been pretty discouraging, at least for those of us with feeble West Coasters sensitivities, but at a friend's urging, I made a point of hitting this Cribs show.
One of the lingering effects of my longtime Anglophilia is a belief that I can like only British bands or only American bands at any given time. Additionally, according to my self-imposed--and utterly unfounded--restrictions, there can be no cross-pollination among each nation's musicians. I'm starting to wriggle free of this straitjacket, but I still can't help comparing the two traditions. Thankfully, bands like the Cribs are setting me on the right path.
Though originally hailing from northern England, the Cribs (I'm told) call the Pacific Northwest their home now, and those cross-cultural leanings showed. Perhaps the most obvious examples were their brief homage to San Francisco's own J Church, as well as the film clip of Lee Ranaldo that played in the background against one of their tracks.
But the Stateside influences popped up in a subtler manner too, notably in their lean, brisk sound--bearing no resemblance to the bloated, stadium-ready production I often associate (rightly or wrongly) with British music. In a word, I'd describe them as scrappy, though songs such as "We Share the Same Skies" and "Be Safe" revealed layers of melody and tantalizing hooks as well. Then again, when Johnny Marr is stationed stage right, you know the gig won't be some two-chord travesty--you will hear real songs throughout the night.
It's no exaggeration that the Smiths (along with Duran Duran) ruled my teenage world, and their influence continues to be felt in my listening habits, especially in my lingering preference for sad, clever lyrics set to pretty guitar tunes. That alone would win my eternal fealty, but then Johnny had to work with even more artists I love and lend a hand with some of my favorite records. And I'll admit it doesn't hurt that he's resisted the offers for a Smiths reunion, even if my parents didn't let me see them play at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in 1985. (I'm not bitter.) As a music nerd, I already owe Johnny a huge debt of gratitude for all his work over the years, but I'm more excited to discover that he isn't resting on his laurels and has plenty left to offer.
Previously, I caught Johnny on tour with Neil Finn in what would eventually result in the first 7 World Collide collaboration. Johnny's very participation was mind-blowing at the time, but he was more a sideman who took a couple of spotlight turns. This wasn't the case with the Cribs. Here, he was a part of the band, not calling out his presence in any way (even shooting down the drunk fool who barreled to the front in an attempt to give Johnny his hat), except where it counted: with some lovely harmonies and a truckload of gorgeous riffs.
As a kid, I listened to the Smiths for Morrissey's lyrics, but I eventually recognized the genius of the music and arrangements behind those words. Still, it didn't prepare me for what I heard at this show. The sheer variety of sounds coming from Johnny's guitar was mesmerizing: hard attacks, soft shadings, and so much in between. Certainly, the Jarman brothers deserve major props for their songwriting, but during the course of several songs, I mostly marveled at the eloquence and musicality Johnny brought to the table. These direct, fuss-free numbers bloomed with his contributions.
By the end of this gig, I came away with an ideal mix of emotions: the gratification of seeing a talented young band earning their stripes, the satisfaction of watching a master ply his trade, and the sheer spectacle of the delighted fans taking it all in. This won't be the last time, I'm sure.
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