Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Marks / Siberia / October 21, 2004

Reviewed by Sara Marcus

I sit next to the Marks‚ bassist, Mary, in an aesthetics theory class every Thursday morning. Mary doesn't care much for theory, and she spends the two hours scribbling furious notes to herself and me about the fates she wants to inflict on the visual artists in the class. Sometimes she can't take it any more and a short populist diatribe erupts. Yesterday morning, during a conversation about Brecht and alienation effects and the potential uses of holding an audience at a distance, she exploded: "Excuse me, isn't the point to communicate?! Ten hours later, Mary got onstage with the other two Marks and the band's first-ever show began.

About half of the Marks‚ songs are examples of that form of populism known as three-chord punk rock. The remaining songs are excellent, and I am going to focus on those because once the six-month-old band writes more of them, I have reason to believe that they will not be playing the CBGB's tunes any more unless they need to warm up their hands in a freezing club.

Apparently the guitar and vocals person, Phil, believes along with Mary that the point is to communicate. Instead of singing, he speak-shouts very quickly and clearly into the microphone. He likes to make sure his vocals are turned way up and he likes to tell you what the songs are about before they begin. "This is a song about sit-coms." (He had to repeat the word "sit-coms" because he had slurred it the first time and somebody in the audience had yelled, "What?") "This is a song about getting married in Wal-Mart."

The rhythms are quirky, the sound punk-whimsical. A Dead Milkmen parallel is immediately apparent, but speaks more to a sense of playfulness than an actual quality of the songwriting itself. The Minutemen comparison emerges more gradually from the experience, because the sound is nowhere near that frantic, but when I told Mary after the show that I was hearing a slightly laid-back version of the Minutemen, she grinned and said, "That's exactly what we're going for."