15 Nov 2009: Bowery Ballroom New York
“We’ve been doing all request shows” lead singer Eddie Argos announced to the crowd, “but this is the last night of our tour, and that’s not how we roll anymore. We’re going to do what we want.” Despite failing to take requests, Art Brut did not fail to rope the crowd into the show.
Perhaps the band was just giddy because they were ending the tour, but they all performed as though they were going to burst if they didn’t get to share some really scandalous secret. Each member of the band was beaming, ecstatic, with mouths morphing into impish smiles and eyes lit with adrenaline and hyper-awareness. It’s not the kind of thing you normally see at an indie rock concert, where the stereotypical hipster demeanor is one of diligent control and superiority. But Art Brut’s slicing sense of humor and energy infused the crowd. Perhaps the best moment of the whole show was when I looked into the audience and saw the comical facial expressions of guitarist Jasper Future mirrored by an enraptured audience member. Most shows at Bowery aren’t intimate, but Art Brut performed as though we were all at a party, and they were the ones drunk enough to stand on the kitchen table and start expounding.
During an updated version of “Modern Art” Argos entered into the crowd and had everyone crouched on the floor as he told the story of Art Brut’s tour of DC comics in June 2009, while the band played with unwavering fervor in the background. Just as he had ragged on famous pop/rock bands during other portions of the show, he criticized most of the actors who had ever played Batman, although apparently he’s a George Clooney fan (except when the heartthrob dons a bat suit). Seeing the whole floor at Bowery Ballroom transformed into a kindergarten story session was rather remarkable, and it didn’t surprise me that Argos was able to get laughs at the expense of Michael Keaton.
But it did surprise me earlier when Argos was able to get cheers from the crowd after asserting that Radiohead sucks. It made me think that Art Brut is achieving a remarkable kind of subversion not really seen since the post-punk movement. But they’re subverting differently. While Art Brut certainly has that post-punk sound, it occurred to me during the show that the kind of rebellious attitude they were exuding was a blend of Suicide, Woodstock and Larry David. The mode of creating distance and expressing distaste was not anger; the band was playful and pleased to be on stage, wanting to engage, not instigate the crowd. In a rant against video games that allow you to pretend to play instruments before playing “Formed a Band”, Argos pointed to members of the crowd urging, “You play the guitar, you play the drums, now you formed a band, instead of playing a video game that tells you have a band.”
The wholesome-ish message appeared at other times, such as before the performance of “The Passenger”. “Clearly, Iggy Pop is not someone who should be driving a car,” Argos observed. “So I always assumed the song was about taking a bus. Then I found out it was about being in a limo with David Bowie doing heroin. Don’t do heroin…our version of the song is about a bus.”
Also of note was opening act Jeffrey Lewis, whose bemused folk-rocking served as the perfect appetizer. His hilarious song, “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror”, mocks everyone on the L-train, and everyone who ever wanted to be an artist in a way that managed to unite, not alienate the crowd. He set the stage for the main band to enter with a sound that was both raw and slightly ironic.
That said, while Argos may be an eccentric entertainer, the rest of the band is quite serious about music. Ian Catskillkin and Jasper Future have fun while simultaneously demonstrating dexterity on their guitars, and although Freddy Feedback on bass stands passively off to the side, her smiling face indicates balanced participation. Mikey Breyer on the drums managed to match the energy of the rest of the band using just his arms; his face sometimes looked as though he was enjoying the show as much as the audience. Despite the range of personalities and attitudes one thing was clear: each member of the band was entirely serious about performing.