We Are Scientists with Morning Benders and The Blood Arm,
El Rey, July 1, 2008
Photos by Timothy Norris
Last night The Blood Arm performed the first truly excellent theme song for the economic recession of 2008. Dedicated to Jay-Z, referencing Wesley Snipes' three-year jail sentence for tax evasion and fretting about W-9 forms, “Fuck the Creditors” sums up what a lot of Americans feel right now. Maybe Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr should use it in his run for the White House. They need to get this track on YouTube pronto.
Nominated for LA Weekly's Best New Artist in 2004, and playing at the first Detour festival in 2006, it's high time for The Blood Arm to make a splash and break out to the big time. Nathaniel Fregoso and Dyan Valdés may not care a whole lot about singing in tune or staying in time, but they are riveting to watch, the songs are catchy and funny, and they've got charisma by the truckload. At one point Fregoso crawled off the stage into the audience, and got a hundred people around him to sit down on the El Rey's floor so he could properly serenade pretty girls and boys with “Forever Is Strange.” After that it was anyone's guess where he'd end up from song to song, climbing the scaffolding along the side of the stage, strolling through the crowd kissing girls' hands, tightrope-walking banisters and pulling a couple of audience members up to dance with him for their sleeper hit, “Suspicious Character” with the insanely catchy chorus of “I like all the girls, and all the girls like me.”
In the second slot, filling in for Cut Off Your Hands, San Francisco's The Morning Benders knocked out another strong set pulled from their debut record, Talking Through Tin Cans. Chris Chu still looks like a proper, polite young rocker in his white button down shirt.
You'd have no trouble inviting Chu to your parents' house for dinner (Especially compared to The Blood Arm's Nathaniel Fregoso who'd be dancing on the table before the main course), but long stints opening for showmen The Kooks seem to have given him more confidence and stage prowess. In a summer which has yet to see a big, warm bit of radio magic to soothe our drives between gas stations, the Morning Benders' “Waiting for a War” would sound damn nice blasting out of our car radios this Fourth of July weekend. In a couple of weeks they'll be back in town opening for Supergrass (Avalon, July 12), which should be an excellent pairing of veteran and upcoming pop songsmiths.
And so on to Scientists class. They open with “Ghouls,” the dark first track from their new LP Brain Thrust Mastery with it's repeated refrain, “We all recognize that I'm the problem here,” before launching into a loud, ripping set. Keith Murray* swung his guitar around like a drunk with a lead pipe, threatening to impale anyone who dared enter his space. Chris Cain, with fresh mustache and curly hair in place bore a kind of disturbing resemblance to John Oates. Maybe Murray is the new Daryl Hall?
They didn't make the crowd wait for the hits. “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” came up quick and got the young room bouncing like mad. Tuesday's show is their first stop on their US tour, having returned from a swing through England and a festival date in Switzerland just a couple of days ago.
When they're not belting out surprisingly tough sounding renditions of songs from their new one and '06s With Love and Squalor, Keith and Chris are a regular Dean and Jerry on stage, cracking the usual stage banter bits, (“We're Def Leppard. It's great to be back in Seattle.”) to the more bizarre: Tales of friends playing their songs backwards while consummating their marriage, pointing out a bearded guy who Murray assured everyone is “wiry strong,” and explaining that Los Angeles has fewer unicorns and rainbows in real life than they lead to journalists to believe, but that our lack of rainbows is probably due to our low humidity.
While the Scientists' new album is earnestly retro – it's almost textbook New Wave really – the addition of a second guitar and synths on stage give the songs a fat sound that filled the room. Keith Murray's voice is no studio fabrication. On songs like “After Hours” from the Brain Thrust Mastery, it rings out like a shot. Someone else said it before me (The Guardian), but I can't shake the connection: These songs would be perfectly at home in a John Hughes movie. But hey, the LA Times just did a big story on Molly Ringwald, so who knows? Put her in a movie married to John Cusack with Matthew Broderick trying to steal her away, and let We Are Scientists do the whole soundtrack. It'll mint money.
NOTE: I completely botched the names of the two members of We Are Scientists, getting them 100% wrong. I'm very sorry for the error. Thanks to readers for pointing it out to me. -Mark Mauer