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Midnight Bumblers 

Thursday, Apr 3 2003
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THE VINES, THE MUSIC at the Henry Fonda Theater, March 25

"Disanticipointment." It's a word Paul McCartney invented to describe the public's tepid response to the Beatles' superhyped "reunion" track, "Free as a Bird," but it just as accurately describes the reaction of the crowd to the Vines' performance at the Henry Fonda Theater last Tuesday: There was a real buzz on the floor when the Aussies hit the stage with their radio-friendly rocker "Outtathaway," but where the recorded version takes flight on the torrential release of vocal aggression, all hoarse front man Craig Nicholls could manage was an outburst of falsetto-voiced chicken clucks that seemed an attempt to approximate Mick Jagger but sounded more like the Stones mid-Heimlich.

Nicholls tried to compensate for his blown pipes with a slew of slacker theatrics, but his diversionary tactics — affecting a drunken stupor after taking a couple of dramatic swigs off a beer, playing a feedback solo to "Mary Jane" with his ass, and nearly decapitating Dave Olliffe when he hurled his guitar at the drummer's head during "In the Jungle" — smacked more of petulance than righteous punk indignation. And when the Vines' roadie appeared onstage with a replacement guitar before Nicholls actually smashed his during their mosh-pit anthem "Get Free," it appeared that the rebellion was indeed just more choreography. So it was fitting that the true lead vocalist of the revolution came from the audience and spoke only two words at the end of the night: "You suck."

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The Music's set fared much better than the Vines' debacle, buoyed by the seemingly endless vocal range of Robert Harvey. And though the tunes were occasionally victimized by overly ambitious arrangements and excessive effects, it was obvious from songs like "Take the Long Road and Walk It" that these guys had soul, and that always goes a long way.

BEDROOM WALLS at the Derby, March 28

Bedroom Walls describe their music as Romanticore — approximating (among other things) "the last paragraph of The Great Gatsby . . . knowing your ex-girlfriend is happier now . . . sighing too loudly and too often." What sets it apart from typical diary-rock is that this is also music about joy.

Joy is a difficult thing to write toward. Joy isn't mere happiness, nor is it ecstasy. Joy may be pleasure you don't earn, simply allow yourself to experience; it's about surrender. Coming back again to the band's mission statement — "knowing your ex-girlfriend is happier now" — this joy is sad and kind of beautiful, the ability to shrug it off. What's familiar is the willingness to be absurd, refusing to let your intelligence become a burden. Because joy is absurd, joy's all about enjoying things more than you should, be they cigarettes, wind or bedroom walls. Even music. Perhaps especially music. Music has to be liked a bit too much.

Bedroom Walls make that easy, playing songs with awkward perfection; music to dance to like an idiot, in your room alone, or in the opulently lit Derby. How to convey the music? It's shamelessly melodic, kind of ambient, kind of spaced-out, surprisingly clever. It's like your little sister on drugs, insouciant and a bit off-the-wall. It's all these things, but it's precisely them; this is a personality carefully crafted and practiced. However, pop skill doesn't preclude the need to rock out. It's just that when Bedroom Walls do, they caution the crowd they're about to do so. As exquisite and polite as any dandy. (Russel Swensen)

MICHELLE SHOCKED at Molly Malone's, March 25

"You may be Shocked, but I'm awed," quipped Paul Krassner to Michelle Shocked, delighting the packed house. There was a palpable hunger in the air at Molly Malone's, a need to simultaneously express outrage at the devastation wreaked upon Iraq by the U.S. military while making a joyful noise to relieve the concomitant widespread nausea. In front of fiery fake logs and with piped-in chirping crickets, Shocked presided over the fourth and final "Campfire Series," equal parts variety show, anti-war protest and benefit for International ANSWER. Shocked's endearing Texas twang and down-home demeanor are proof that — in spite of the spurious spin — dissent is profoundly Middle American.

Shocked delivered three songs in her folk-with-'tude trademark style — "Who Cares?," "Looks Like Mona Lisa" and "Go in Peace" — and, as mistress of ceremonies, introduced Groundlings legend Maryedith Burrell and the Firesign Theater's Peter Bergman, who presented mock awards called the Bummers. Tony Blair won Best Adaptation of a President for "impersonating a prime minister while actually wanting to be First Poodle of the United States." L.A.'s diva deluxe Suzy Williams belted out three tunes with Bill Burnett as the Boners, including "Dear God We Broke the Planet." Artist David Willardson painted and Pogues accordionist James Fearnley squeezeboxed throughout, notably while the performers leaped out of their seats and danced a jig.

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