|Photo by Jelle Wagenaar|
INTERPOL, SECRET MACHINES
at the Wiltern, October 28
Of the oodles of retro-reveling acts who’ve strutted out of New York over the past three years, Interpol are the best equipped — in terms of tunes, talent and identity — to establish a multidisc dynasty. Their newly released sophomore album, Antics, is a surprise improvement over their critically slobbered-over yet patchy 2002 debut, Turn On the Bright Lights, and has been received accordingly.
So the Wiltern is full even when Secret Machines take the stage for the second of a two-night engagement. Silhouetted and anonymous, this NYC-via-Texas trio are about deliberate, propulsive beats and early-Floyd psychedelia, yet with sufficient guitar glitter and pop instinct to stay this side of total stoner fare. The extended opener, “First Wave Intact,” says it all: Thudding bass, recurring guitar motifs and drums like grooving machinery offset Ben Curtis’ Brit-invasion vocal inflections.
Interpol, a mauve wash rendering them faceless, get a huge welcome. They snap out of the droning “Next Exit” with “Say Hello to the Angels,” flashing their uncanny knack for chaining apparently unrelated musical passages: a rollicking Smiths-plagiarized verse and a frantic chorus morphing into a reaching, last-goodbye bridge and dark, extended outro steered by dirgy bass. Though their early-’80s influences are transparent, Interpol are more amalgam than clone — not as bleak as Joy Division, as distant as Faith-era Cure or as melodramatically sinister as Bauhaus.
With singer-guitarist Paul Banks static, it’s Carlos D who cheerleads, his off-duty-storm-trooper garb and bass-aloft wanderings instantly recognizable. D’s deceptively ingenious lines buttress the ’Pol formula of cunning guitar interplay, almost beat-box grooves, and Banks’ lonely, disconnected utterances, which lurk between Peter Murphy’s gothic affectations and John Lydon’s ranting, insistent sneer.
The crowd hums with palpable relief: at last, new heroes who can live up to the hype.
at Mr. T’s Bowl, October 29
It’s jarring to stumble across a band as gifted, sculpted and hard to ignore as the Randies playing to a few dozen people in the charmingly shabby surroundings of Mr. T’s Bowl. But the former bowling alley in Highland Park is the hub of the fiercely independent DIY community that birthed the band a couple of years back. So while these scene kingpins appear poised to welcome a wider embrace, they return home with obvious relish.
All Kennedy-era kitsch in photographs, the Randies take a more dressed-down approach live. Most arresting is the vocal interplay between bassist Sienna DeGovia and guitarists Laura Cataldo and Megan McCarter: Beach Boys– and Go-Go’s–influenced strands of melody conversing, meshing and overlapping like trains of thought. Though DeGovia is a focus, and her yearning, alpine inflections linger, all three undertake lead-vocal duties effortlessly. An under-the-weather DeGovia is animated yet standoffish, McCarter focused and relentless, the svelte and smiling Cataldo infectiously impassioned.
Aside from their vocal prowess, what saves the Randies from being just another cutesy retro-pop affair is a backbone of punkish Blondie/Runaways panache and a knowing self-confidence in delivery. The guitars are sufficiently strapping, and Kelly Cairns’ unpretentiously appropriate beats land with enough velocity to confirm that, regardless of stylistic nuances, this is a rock band. The four are best when the saccharine and the adrenaline truly fuse (“Boys in Stereo,” “Threadbare”), or when milking the melancholy (“Hyperion”); less so when going for the throat at the expense of melody (“Put Out”).
The Randies are no musical revolution, but with their debut album (At the Friendship Motor Inn) just out, it’ll be interesting to see if this fountain of harmony can overflow the underground. And it should.
SOLEDAD BROTHERS, THE VACATION
at Spaceland, October 26
While Voice of Treason, the latest release from Detroit’s Soledad Brothers, isn’t as slide-oriented as their debut or as juke-joint-yahoo as Steal Your Soul and Dare Your Spirit To Move, it’s got magic, a magic that lies in a defiant nonchalance toward its cornerstone: the blues. Careening from the voodoo-sex vibe of “Cage That Tiger,” to the crusty 12-bar licks of “The Elucidator,” to the organ-nuzzled elegy of “Only Flower in My Bed,” to the galloping, glockenspiel-driven “I’m So Glad,” and even to a tune whose chorus brazenly pilfers Booker T and the MGs’ “Green Onions,” these “roots” musicians reject dusty bluesological reverence.
Which is why it was baffling that the trio consistently avoided the genre-bending tunes in favor of their discography’s dumbed-down rock & roll numbers during their too-brief set. Was it paranoia that the rain-soaked crowd needed hip-swivelers to keep warm? (“We braved the weather, so get up here and dance,” singer-guitarist Johnny Walker instructed.) Or was it merely anxiety at following the Jaggerphilia of garage-rock penises the Vacation? Who can say? But in case folks thought they’d get only roadhouse stompers, multi-instrumentalist Oliver Henry busted out his saxophone midset to split a few reeds and grease up this scuzz-twang-o-rama real good. Since said instrument functioned too much like a bass à la Morphine’s Mark Sandman, though, it eclipsed rather than complemented Walker’s frets-afire guitar and the frenetic pounding of trapsman Ben Swank.
Given the Soledads’ oblique jabs at our democracy’s undemocratic leaders, it was surprising they didn’t turn the stage into a soapbox (which they easily could have for this very P.C. crowd). Instead, they stayed the hopped-up refried-blues course they’d charted. Guess they know that an honest riff is sometimes the best protest.