Friday night, before a packed house at the Echo, three clean-cut, clearly inebriated members of Harlem took the stage. Swaying slightly, the boys from Austin, TX launched into some of the most by-the-book, tasteful garage rock you can get. All of the elements were there in equal proportion: frantic, fevered drumming, check; raw three-part harmony that often disintegrates into screams of joy, check, catchy surf-inspired melodies on jangly guitars, check. So what was missing? Loss of control.
Part of what makes garage rock so exciting is this thin electric undercurrent of danger. There should be a certain element that suggests the band members are slightly unhinged. The audience should be wondering “Are they going to puke? Are the going to get naked? Are they going to make out? Who's bleeding? What is that?” On their toes, the crowd is never quite sure what's gonna happen next. Harlem, however, sounded good but played it safe.
Unlike their contemporaries The Black Lips, who have been known to eat fireworks, or King Khan and the Shrines who like to appear to shows in capes and warrior helmets, these young lads were so well behaved you could take your mother to their show without being worried about her batting a single judgmental eyelash. For God's sake, there was only one stage dive during the whole show by a fan who got all lathered up during their hit single “Friendly Ghost.” I'm not asking for anything too wild. Just jump up and down a little more or stage dive once. Just once.
Where Harlem was lacking in menace, they more than made up for in adorableness. For a band who included a winking emoticon in the title of their debut album (Free Drugs 😉) and called their sophomore album Hippies, that's not all that surprising. Like puppies, they would tease each other through out the set before launching into equally cheeky numbers “Be My Baby” and “Gay Human Bones.” Drummer Michael Coomers (sporting his signature white bandanna) and guitarist Curtis O'Mara switched places half way through the set almost as if they got bored with their instruments and were itching for new ones. The switch changed the band's sound ever so slightly, but the spirit remained the same.
All and all, Harlem is the kind of band you would be delighted to find at a house party. Armed with upbeat and infectious tunes, they would get the room dancing, but you would never have to worry about it raging out of control. Your mother's hydrangeas would be safe from molestation and no lamps would be broken.