The Primitives (photo: Patric Carver)
Friday night at Brick & Mortar, the crowd was wall-to-wall. The night began with the Oilies who played an incredible set. Their sound is invigorating and precious without being pretentious – the timber of a less-angry Bratmobile with the soul and charm of Matthew Sweet. When I spoke to them backstage, I was shocked to learn that they’ve only been together for a week. Their stage presence is cohesive and their sound tight. “We were in other bands,” said lead vocalist Carly. “Matt and I were in the Mantles, and Luke was in New Faultlands.”
“Yeah,” added bassist Matt, adding in a moment of temporary confidence, “both great bands with us and without us.”
Part of the Oilies’ charm is that they have an almost artful humility. Carly is a reluctant-seeming front woman, staring at her shoes at points and giggling during our chat. Fans of Garfunkel and Oates would peg her as a kindred spirit to Oates – brilliantly bordering on bashful and deliciously eccentric, wrapped in a normal-looking package. This charming hubris is reflected even in the origins of their band name. “For our name, I was thinking of those stickers you used to press and see and the colors inside or about the marbles with the oily colors. I am really into toys, but there’s also this meaning to oilies – the counterculture. My friends were always the hard-luck kids, I wanted to reference to that.”
Sadly, the second band of the night did not share the same professionalism. Cruel Summer had potential, but their guitarist dominated the room with volume over substance in an ear-wringing torture session. I like it loud, but he seemed completely ambivalent about the fact that he was playing with a band at all. That lack of self-awareness is fine for the garage, but it makes for a messy experience on stage. When his choice to play so much louder than his bandmates was remarked upon, he replied, “Sometimes that happens.” Well, it shouldn’t.
It’s a pity because there seemed to be something there, but it was so drowned out that it couldn’t be enjoyed.
The Primitives, led by Tinkerbell look-alike Tracy Tracy, managed to turn the night around with their bright, poppy set that mixed classics with new material. Tracy Tracy’s stage antics were as affable as ever, waving her hand – jacketed in sequined gloves – about in showgirl fashion while prancing about the stage. At times, it seemed as if the band was playing for her and not with her as she danced and twirled, falling back into her role as vocalist when the time called for it.
Speaking of her vocals, she sounded as good as she ever has – bobbing above many late ’80s/’90s bands whose vocal chords just can’t hold up after years of smoking, drinking, and shrieking. Reminiscent of Bay Area local Jane Wiedlin, Tracy’s style had a substance that was sharp and sophisticated while still being playful.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that the legendary guitarist Paul Court was there with his steady, sweet swing. His playing has all the joy of Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” that makes Jack Black’s character in High Fidelity lose his mind, bubbling over with delight…and all the modern-day indifference that makes John Cusack’s character shut it down. There’s no way not to like it – it’s both sides of the coin, appealing to all without pandering to anyone.
The Primitives proved that they’re still the real deal, and I hope to see them come this way again.
The Oilies will be playing at Hemlock Tavern August 12 with Real Numbers.