Photos by: Agata Kamler
For all of my interest in pushing things forward, I’ve recently felt something of a compulsion back to the familiar comfort zone of catchy rock-pop songs. Frills? Frills are overrated. Fuck frills. I’m not going to claim to speak for the rest of the crowd at Cafe Du Nord on February 23rd, but, over the course of the evening, we were treated to a whole mess of infectious songs and, by all appearances, everyone enjoyed it immensely.
Drawing primarily from 12 Desperate Straight Lines, Telekinesis delivered a set showcasing the recent album’s killer pop songs and winning hooks, albeit with a bit more intensity than I had initially expected. To put it bluntly, bandleader Michael Benjamin Lerner beat the shit out of the drums, and his bandmates (alums of The Blood Brothers and Robert Pollard’s band) joined ably in the frenzy. When I saw the group last SXSW, it was a bigger and different ensemble that was perhaps more dynamic, but the raw power of the trio benefited new and old songs alike, including the closing one-two punch of “Tokyo” and “Coast of Carolina.” Lerner’s drum rage also might have been channeling frustration with sound problems that persisted throughout the band’s set; asking the crowd “Can you guys hear the bass?” is never a good sign when you’ve been playing for half an hour already. Still, the group powered on despite the setbacks, and the crowd ate it up.
“We’re not in any rush,” Richard Baluyut of Versus said last night, and the statement fit not just a mid-set tuning, but the group’s recent resurgence. At Cafe Du Nord, the band’s sense of humility and restraint felt befitting indie pop elder statesmen who last year released their first record in ten years, but the group didn’t show any hesitation in delivering a highly enjoyable set.
The trio — Baluyut, his brother Edward, and Fontaine Toups — was accompanied by a violinist/keyboardist that Richard identified with, “This is Margaret. She classes up the joint.” But for all of the violin’s classiness, it didn’t detract from the noisy crunch of the band’s sinewy indie pop. “River,” from 1994’s The Stars Are Insane, began with a squall of noisy feedback, before Baluyut and Toups launched into winning back and forth vocals. The lyrics were depressing, and the melody was beautiful. In that moment, and a number of others, the band’s command of bittersweet pop ascended toward the sublime.
Based on some Youtube videos, I had pegged The Love Language as party-starters, and the band’s set certainly didn’t disappointed. The end-of-set sweat was well earned via a series of insistent uptempo numbers that soared on hooks and harmonies. To be sure, it helped that the crowd toward the front of the stage felt like a meeting of The Love Language Fan Club. Even a new song — so new it didn’t yet have a name — had people bouncing around like it was a hit. And, hopefully, some day it will be one. At the very least, it, or a half-dozen other pop firecrackers the band launched during their set, should deserves to be one.
For just two guitars, two drums and one voice, Burnt Ones sure made a lot of noise, in the best possible way. Over the past several months, I’ve found myself drawn time and again to the band’s first full length, Black Teeth & Golden Tongues, which arrived around the same time that the trio relocated from Indiananapolis to San Francisco. Hopefully the move was worth it for the band because it sure makes sense musically, what with the Ones’ dual predilections for proto-rock and JAMC-style sonic tidal waves. The melodies are killer and guitarist/singer Mark Tester displayed plenty of swagger, bouncing and jerking around in a ’50s-housewives-worry-this-will-cause-social-decline sort of way. Really good stuff.