It was a very strange lineup at the Bootleg Theater on Friday night containing two bands that had completely opposite sounds. April Smith and the Great Picture Show drew from the past directly creating a sound that was heavily influenced by jazzy cabaret songs and ragtime while Tunng had imagined a futuristic folktronic sound that was completely their own using any manner of percussion necessary. It was a showdown between nostalgia versus futuristic invention.
For a band that had just climbed out of a van, April Smith and her Great Picture Show looked quite dapper when they took the stage. In a black and white cocktail dress backed by lads sporting fedoras, ties, and suspenders April Smith smiled sweetly at the packed house and crooned “I just want to mean something to you.” Brassy and bold, Smith went through a set filled with songs from her latest disk Songs from A Sinking Ship that were chocked full of love and betrayal.
Only problem was April Smith is too darn sweet to sing about murdering people. Whether it was the deadly tune “Drop Dead Gorgeous” or her hit “Terrible Things” which she wrote for TV's favorite serial killer Dexter Morgan both were sung with a giant grin on her face, but no menace, no fire. There was never even a shred of a possibility that she would slink off into the night and have her revenge on some two-timing lover, an element that is necessary in all cabaret singers. Even her cover of Leslie Gore's “You Don't Own Me” lacked the defiance or the rage necessary for carrying off that tune. There was no fire and brimstone, just a charming sugariness that left you unsatisfied.
They really should have a sign between sets that reads “And now for something completely different” at venues when they know their lineups make no cohesive sense to give the audience a heads up. If anything it's worth a giggle. One of London's finest experimental pop outfits took the stage looking as if they belonged to different bands. Lead singer Mike Lindsay looked like a pirate lost in his own personal earthquake clutching his acoustic guitar as he wobbled in front of the microphone. In contrast singer Becky Jacobs looked solid as a rock, unsmiling in front of her synthesizer, and behind them Martin Smith had the appearance of a mad scientist in a laboratory of percussive instruments.
Surrounded by all manner of bells, wooden blocks, drums, whisks, and chimes, Smith frantically beat on whatever was near him with a frenzy that created an incredibly complex while surprisingly stable beat. Jacobs then added electronic whoops and yips, while beautiful melodies dripped from Lindsay's guitar, and the two of them sang wildly inventive ballads. Songs about a little old lady who murders people and then writes fantasy stories in their blood “Tale From Black” or dependence on antidepressant drugs “Don't Look Down or Back” or secret rituals that allow you catch bullets in your teeth “Bullets.” Whimsical and potent each song feels like a glimpse into a mystery that the audience needs solve. Often bewildering, but never boring, Tunng has managed to put surprise back into pop songs by creating a sound that is uniquely their own which is no small feat.