Friday, October 01, 2004

A.R.E. Weapons, Bloc Party, Automato / Knitting Factory / Sept. 30, 2004

The Knitting Factory main space experience has become much more enjoyable since they installed the video screen that comes down in front of the stage between sets. However, no amount of cheeky music videos by mixed-gender Williamsburg electro-punk bands could make up for the fact that when that screen lifted at 10:00pm last night, the group on stage was Automato, not Bloc Party. Not only had I busted ass to make it on time for Bloc Party’s debut American performance, but I had MISSED THE ENTIRE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE in the process. (Yeah, I tried to tape it, but it’s my roommate’s TV, and she hadn’t plugged in the VCR, and blah blah whatever, you don’t care.) My rage at discovering that I could have left my apartment an hour later can only be compared to the massive lameness of Automato, a young live hip-hop group that seems influenced by The Roots only inasmuch as they aspire to one day play Bonnaroo. Music that can only be appreciated by stoned people. No stage presence, weak beats, cheesiest Rhodes lines ever. Dressed like Old Navy salesclerks. Yet somehow, they seem to have seduced respected (well, by me) tastemakers like the DFA (who produced them) and Dim Mak (who released their EP). Automato, it’s guys like you that make people want to ban white folks from hip-hop forever. Can some of the haterade poured on Northern State please be redirected towards these dudes, pronto?

The hipsterati were out in force for Bloc Party; I spotted various Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kills and Chromeos. This band is poised to become the next Franz Ferdinand, though from speaking with the frontman, I doubt they’re hungry for that kind of commercial success right now. Which is totally commendable and how every band should be, in my humble opinion. So far, they’ve only released a few singles in the UK and one EP in the U.S. (on Dim Mak), but like a certain other group who built their reputation on a fantastic handful of songs, BP seem to have the songwriting chops down pat. Live, however…well, let’s just say there’s no Karen O in the bunch, though the drummer, who vaguely resembles my friend Tim, and who wore a neckerchief, nerdy glasses and no shirt, came close. Kele, in an inside-out D.A.R.E. t-shirt, couldn’t stop smiling, and everything that came from his throat was sublime, but he just isn’t that charismatic of a presence. They rushed through their set, which included a bunch of promising new songs (including one that the drummer introduced as a “Bloc Ballad,” and encouraged everybody to “touch each other”). Their best tune, “Banquet,” was way too fast and sloppy, and the awesome baritone ahh-umm backing vocals were limited to a single outburst from the drummer. But hey, they haven’t been together very long, so I should cut them some slack. Oh, if you’re interested, Bloc Party’s playing a free show at the Tribeca Grand on Saturday. Info here.

Most of the crowd cleared out after Bloc Party, leaving a small bunch of rowdy diehards for A.R.E. Weapons. My, how times change. If this had been two years ago, the line would have been around the block for these smartasses, who are associated with the electroclash scene, but aren’t really electroclash so much as a bubblegum-metal band that happens to use a drum machine. They’re pretty much the missing evolutionary link between Suicide and Andrew W.K. A bunch of (ironically?) long-haired, (ironically?) tattooed dudes who (ironically?) headbang while (ironically?) spilling beer everywhere, A.R.E. actually write some pretty great hooks, and their album is a total guilty pleasure. What is not a guilty pleasure—and is not noticeable on the album at all-- is the whole Vice aesthetic they cultivate, of being all anti-politically correct and pro-fun at any cost. The singer made some “America, love it or leave it” speech, and I definitely heard a few “niggas” thrown around by these whiter than white guys. Not cool. Not cool at all. But, once again, it comes down to a question of irony—do they really mean all this stuff? Or is the whole redneck thing a joke? If so, then the posse that cheered them on, both on and off the stage (shades of hip-hop entourages), must be in on it, too. Right? And Chloe Sevigny, whose brother is in the band, and who dates (used to date?) the singer, is she in on it? (No, I didn’t see her at the show, though I looked hard. No Vincent Gallo either, haha.) I’m not saying that it’s OK if it’s a joke, because it definitely isn’t. But I’m still curious.

Something happened during the A.R.E. Weapons set that I’ve never seen happen before: Several members of their entourage were smoking, and the soundman yelled over the P.A. for them to stop. They did for a little bit, but then started up again. The soundman left his post in the balcony, walked down onto the floor, and physically removed the cigarettes from the guys’ hands. That seemed to work.