A topless little guy in face paint and shorts and no shoes waving a homemade flag and howling into a microphone accompanied by only an iPod. A mustachioed recorder player huddled cross-legged on the stage floor behind another colorfully hand-drawn banner while the rest of the band bashed out fuzzily good-natured pop out in front. A dude in a yellow Elvis T-shirt joining in a set of blistering garage rock. Another mustache, this time on a solitary singer-songwriter who mixed self-consciously bombastic post-Jeff Buckley balladry with self-consciously awkward stand-up comedy. A new band from some familiar local faces in their live debut.
That's an incomplete sampling of the live performances I was able to catch Wednesday and Thursday nights last week at Vaudeville Mews:
I Should've Killed You When I Had the Chance.
The biggest revelation for me was Coyote Slingshot, the cathartic spazz-punk project of Fairfield, Iowa's own Dominic Rabalais. With a highly worthwhile four-song 7" out on Austin, Texas-based Super Secret Records, First Word of Evil Omens: Vitium, Coyote Slingshot occasionally play as a full band-- or so I'm told. But on Wednesday it was all Rabalais, backed mainly by nothing more than an mp3 player. The even-blurrier-than-normal photos stored in my phone tell the story: First this guy with face paint, a white T-shirt, and black shorts is screaming his lungs out and waving a flag. Then he has handed the flag to an audience member, and he doesn't have a shirt on anymore, and he's screaming his lungs out. Then he's holding an acoustic guitar and screaming his lungs out. Then he's curled on top of the bar, still holding the acoustic guitar, still screaming his lungs out. My pictures don't show it, but this entire time the dude's mp3 player is blasting ear-shatteringly loud, heavily textured, no-fi punk-pop-whatchamacallit, with keyboards and drums and distorted electric guitars and shambling acoustic guitars. If you like the crowd participation of Dan Deacon (or locals like Christopher the Conquered, whose members were at the show, and the Poison Control Center, currently on tour) or the passionate intensity of Titus Andronicus, or even the ramshackle eccentricity of Neutral Milk Hotel, then Coyote Slingshot seem like a must-see.
What did I do? What did I do?
The Beets, from Jackson Heights, Queens, N.Y., continued to impress Thursday night with their self-assured, low-key guitar-pop. This four-piece, whose presumably somewhat tongue-in-cheek Spit in the Face of People Who Don't Want to Be Cool LP is worth owning for its (WWE-inspired) artwork alone, played Beechwood Lounge in Des Moines' East Village not long ago, and they were set to open a couple of days later for the Mountain Goats in Iowa City. Jose Garcia and Juan Wauters' bratty lead vocals blend in harmony over rickety guitar, rudimentary bass, some extremely simple two-drum drumming by Melissa Scaduto, and from behind the curtain (although darned if I can hear him on the record) Matthew Volz on recorder. This is loose, playful stuff, and it could make for an amazing party given a larger crowd, but it's not demanding one. At a time when so many New York bands use low fidelity as essentially a production effect, the Beets spit in the face of hipsters and squares alike-- their songs are as laid-back as their recording style, covering essential rock'n'roll topics like girls and loneliness and confusion, and their constant touring ethic belies any notion of aloof coolness even as their performance is, indeed, coolly detached, as if they're playing only for themselves.
I'm gonna buy sneakers that are black/
And think about the devil!
The more I listen to it, the more I feel like Spit may one day be considered an overlooked classic. Don't count on the band to care enough to top it on their next album-- but then again, I wouldn't count them out, either.
I'll walk the way you walk.
Wheels on Fire rolled in from Athens, Ohio, home of Ohio University, and played brawnily endearing garage-rock of the 1960s style. I figured they would be headlining the early show on Wednesday, but that spot went to Coyote Slingshot; his level of showmanship would've been hard to top, sure, but this guitar-keyboard-bass-drums quartet were musically right there, embodying the kind of sweaty, boozy rock'n'roll that seems to be where my tastes and those of Vaud booker Ladd Askland often overlap. With plenty of songs about relationships gone awry, they could easily share a bill with the Beets, too-- or much-loved, tragically defunct Pacific Northwest band the Exploding Hearts. Recommended: Wheels on Fire's four-song I'm Turning Into You 7" on Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum and their "Come on Judy"/"Bad Lie" 7" on Trouble in Mind.
California, they never, ever warn ya.
The late show Wednesday brought Pearly Gate Music, a Barsuk Records signee from Seattle who performed solo that night. He was affable and funny and the set was totally solid, but I didn't take notes and don't have too much more to add; the self-titled debut release has a full band and is worth a listen, striking me on initial listens as something people who dig the mellower Okkervil River songs might enjoy. Locals Love Songs for Lonely Monsters-- featuring members of Wolves in the Attic-- made an impressive debut last week, too, with some intricate, almost mathy guitar playing, including some instrumentals. But I didn't get much in the way of photos. Another idiosyncratic sort of death-metal/indie-folk set from Iowans Land of Blood and Sunshine, as well. Oh man, and I caught the end of set from Des Moines' the Seed of Something, who seem to be improving every time.
So Long Silly Rabbit.
For real: a summer preview (hey, it's not summer yet, technically) will be coming up soon.