27 Oct 2012: The Mercury Lounge New York
Although not as popular here as in England where, as front man Dick Valentine puts it, they are a cozy coffee shop to Nickelback’s Prêt a Manger, Electric Six keep persevering in the states. Their debut, Fire in 2003, was a massive and fairly well-received dance-rock hit; but since then Electric Six have released an album a year, all to varying degrees of zany success. Playing two shows at Manhattan’s tiny Mercury Lounge even after multiple releases and two very big smashes doesn’t look quite right on paper. Valentine chalks this decision up to preferring an extra night in New York to the decrepitude of Philadelphia. It’s a sentiment that fits with Valentine’s egotistical onstage persona, which miraculously still engages despite his aloofness.
After starting out the evening with “Devil Nights”, “Hello! I See You!” (about “the ecstasy of accepting Satan as your master”), and “When I Get to the Green Building”, Valentine announced, “We first played here ten years ago, when we had one album. Now we’re going to pretend we still have only one album.” Valentine and co. then gave the crowd a small-scale preview of what they will be bringing to venues such as England’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire in the coming months: a complete run-through of Fire. Although it may seem unnecessary for a band to wheel out a just shy of ten years album, Electric Six just manage to get away with it thanks to their ongoing ridiculousness and love of skewering rock ‘n’ roll tropes. Although the replaying of a classic album in its entirety is still a recent development, it’s already overdue for sending up.
Replaying their definitive release live also means that levels of fun are at the maximum. It is a given that, even after all these years, “Danger! High Voltage” and “Gay Bar” will still hit an audience right in its collective pleasure zone. On that Saturday night at the Mercury Lounge, the latter song led to slightly more raucous dancing, and the former gave way to more enthusiastic singing along. Thankfully, Fire is greater than these two songs, and “Naked Pictures (Of Your Mother)” and “She’s White”—which Valentine referred to as the album’s obligatory love song—were greeted just as warmly.
Although the show occurring so close to Halloween most likely was a large factor in making it only an almost sold-out night, Electric Six managed to make things festive by rolling out their more diabolical songs before and after the Fire tracks. No matter the time of year, Valentine would have probably still deemed his guitarist “The White Wolf,” and his bassist would have most likely still performed in a sleazy open shirt. Likewise, Valentine would have still presented himself as a rock star archetype, striking disco poses, resorting to scriptlike banter by announcing, “This was way better than the place we played last night!” (which was also The Mercury Lounge), and coming across as vaguely narcoticized. Commercial aspirations were also vocalized frequently, although some of these utterances seemed startlingly genuine, such as when Valentine voiced the need for a tarp for the tour van in order to protect it from the oncoming hurricane. Seeing as the Lower East Side—where The Mercury Lounge is located—was particularly impacted by Hurricane Sandy, we can only hope Electric Six’s merch booth was taken advantage of generously.
Even with the brevity of Fire promising a fairly short set, and the rolling out of fan favorites such as “I Buy the Drugs” being the key to a satisfying evening, the proceedings couldn’t escape feeling a little stale by the third time a song with “dance” in the title was played. Still, it’s hard to fault a party band, particularly in a live setting. Constant touring means that Electric Six are wise enough to skim through their inconsistent discography and pluck the one or two killer tracks from each post-Fire album out of the mix. And, seeing as Valentine released a solo album this year, finding new methods of rocking promises to be an ongoing endeavor. If threat of natural disaster or a holiday kept you away this time, it really doesn’t matter; Electric Six will most likely be coming to your town again in a few months or so, and will be just as irreverent for it.