Concert Review: The Limousines at The Studio at Webster Hall: 11/07/2013 … (plus Deer Tick!)
I learned a lesson on Thursday night at Webster Hall. Actually, I learned several lessons:
- When going to see a band that you don’t know very well, you should at least give a cursory listen to their latest album to make sure that they haven’t gone in a completely different – and terrible – direction.
- Some bands were meant to be listened to on the radio. Some bands were meant to be seen and heard live. The radio bands could be terrible live. The live bands may be ones you’d switch the radio dial on immediately.
- New Yorkers can be both really nice and really cruel simultaneously.
OK, I already knew that last one. I’ll get back to how that played out on Thursday night a little later. As for the first lesson, I learned that one the hard way as I stood through a mercifully brief set by the Limousines, opening for Mona at The Studio at Webster Hall, the tiny 250 person room in the basement of the East Village club. The Limousines are known – if they are known at all – for two indie pop songs that were huge in 2010 or so on stations like SiriusXM’s Alt Nation. Those two songs are the clever, catchy, danceable, and generally upbeat (despite their lyrics) “Very Busy People” and “Internet Killed the Video Star“. Both of those songs are among my favorites of the past five years and lead a very good debut album, Get Sharp, which I ranked in my top 25 albums for 2010.
It’s my own fault for not even realizing that the group put out a second album this year, Hush. It’s their fault though for only playing songs off of Hush during their 30 minutes on stage Thursday night. And it’s their fault for thinking that their music is still danceable when they’ve devolved into a grown-up boy band. At first I thought they had just chosen poorly for the first couple of songs. Then, when four songs in, no one was dancing and the music remained awful, I began wondering whether another beer would make me a depressive drinker. I never went to see New Kids on the Block, ‘N Sync, or the Backstreet Boys, even accidentally, so how did I end up here, with this backward-hat wearing trio of sensitive men “playing” their faux instruments while my ears cried in pain? I only lasted until the end thinking – hoping – I might get lucky enough to hear the song that brought me to Webster Hall that night. Yes, Very Busy People is so good that it had me enduring, barely, a modern day NKOTB. Of course that song never came. Neither did Internet Killed the Video Star. Or anything off of the energetic Get Sharp. I thought that Very Busy People was smart; now I was wondering if the lyrics were somehow literal, in which case they’re embarrassing. In any event, I needed to salvage the night. I needed to hear some actual music.
Between first opener Dresses and the Limousines set I snuck upstairs to catch a little bit of Deer Tick, playing in the main room at Webster Hall. I don’t know much about Deer Tick, other than enjoying their work posing as Deervana every so often. I heard a few songs and recognized the sound immediately – this was some hard rocking alt-country and blues music, reminiscent of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, only louder and even more free-wheeling. (This release notes of their latest album – Negativity – “Stylistic touchstones include baroque pop, boozy punk, AM gold, bar band blues, country soul, and rock’n’roll.”) The place was as packed as I’d ever seen it, people crowded all the way to back wall behind the rear bar, but everyone was having a good ol’ time. I wanted to stay, but the Limos were about to start and this is before I’d learned lesson #2.
After the Limos set, I abandoned the notion of seeing Mona (whom I didn’t know) and went back upstairs to try and catch the tail end of Deer Tick. I actually got to see a fair bit of the show. Here was a band that I’d never listened to before and probably never would, yet the half hour I spent among them and their fans more than made up for the prior half hour. Guitars, horns, harmonicas … this was country rock at its finest. Everyone was singing, the bartenders were dancing with the patrons, and I couldn’t help but get swept up in it all. Now I could have a beer and it would feel like a celebration – raise my pint in the air like the flannel-and-jeans crowd surrounding me, rather than singing away my sorrows. The Limousines were singing about having fun, but their music made me want to cry; Deer Tick sings about pain (“Between calling it quits with his fiancee and suffering the slings of watching his dad go to jail, the singer leans on his keen feel for confessional songwriting like a crutch” says the CoS review) but it results in a rollicking good time. I’ll take the latter over the former any day. I may not run out to buy Negativity (I may download it though), but I will try and see Deer Tick the next time they’re in town.
I promised a word about lesson #3, which I was reminded of while listening to Portland band Dresses. Dresses are an earnest, two-person band (they had three others playing with them on stage) that looks and feels like Portlandia come to life. She (Timothy) has a soft voice, bangs, and a large nose ring. He (Jared) has plastic framed glasses, a ukulele, and the largest afro I’ve ever seen on a white dude. Their music is bland yet inoffensive, exactly the kind of music that a New York City crowd impatient to see the Limousines and/or Mona would no doubt ignore. As the crowd built up the talking amongst us grew louder and louder, to the point where you honestly could barely hear poor Timothy. Clearly it affected her, as mid-song between verses she paused and politely asked, “Can you guys be a little quieter?” Sadly, the crowd didn’t pause even for as long as it took her to ask the question. She gamely sang on as the noise level remained high. But then, when the song ended, the band got a very nice cheer. It was as if everyone realized for a moment how rude they’d been and knew that they could smooth things over by acting like they genuinely enjoyed the music they’d ignored. Poor Timothy – she heard the cheers and actually apologized. She explained that she can’t raise her voice any louder or it would squeak. As if she had anything to apologize for. I’m pretty sure Dresses walked off the stage and believed they’d won over the crowd. I don’t think they did – the music just didn’t do anything for us – but as people they kind of won me over. They tried.
Three bands seen, three lessons learned. The one I actually paid my money to see was the most disappointing by far, but I more than got my $13 worth with Deer Tick. Good music can salvage any night. (I suppose that’s lesson #4.)