Photo credit: Leslie Torre
90 Day Man Vs. Prosaics
Only once have I nearly gotten into a fight at a rock show. PJ Harvey, last fall: directly in front of me is Girl With No Concept of Personal Space, an overstuffed bag adorned with buttons slung over her back. GWNCPS can’t seem to stop backing that thang up, even on the numbers that thrash more than they groove. She bumps and grinds there, incessantly thrusting that voluminous accessory. I kindly tap her on the shoulder and ask her to be more cautious, as her attaché a-plenty has undoubtedly left a big ol’ bruise on my pelvis. Miss (Back Up That) Thang gives me the finger. For the rest of the show, I fantasize: if I reach out, gingerly prodding at one of the pins every time she sways my way, might I be able to loosen it, snatch it away, and drive it deep between her shoulder blades? Would her agonized howl be any different than the ecstatic cries of the other concertfolk, thrilled to the gills by the scintillation of the songs and the delectable wailing of jolly good Polly Jean herself?
Truly moving music can only produce two reactions. It can challenge the body, battle against it, and drive it toward its physical extremes—fighting, fucking, or dancing that more often than not emulates one or the other. Or, it can consume the body, occupy it, and pull it more deeply into itself, its energy the sort that drives one to shake before imploding or disappearing into thin air. Tonight, sandwiched between Entrance, a solo Syd Barrett wannabe who’s forgotten how to sing, and Denali, a female-fronted four-piece that fuses Portishead and Smashing Pumpkins, are Prosaics and 90 Day Men—two bands whose missions are to deliver their audiences to the opposite poles of physical experience.
Prosaics, the first of the two to play, are a new band that’s part of what’s become a veritable movement of post-punk influenced outfits currently marching through the indie scene in New York City and beyond. Though the bands themselves (which include acts like Interpol, Liars, Radio 4, and Erase Errata, depending on who you talk to) practice varying degrees of actual innovation and sheer retro-revitalization (again, depending on who you talk to), most give at least a sonic nod to the likes of Joy Division, early New Order, Gang of Four, early Cure, Section 25, and the Germs. We’re talking music that’s compelling not only for its provocative rhythms and rock subversions, but also for its smarts and cool. But as with any “movement,” such references lose their meaning very quickly. Aside from being simply an allusion to a heyday that’s long since passed (and, let’s face it, passed before most of the folks in these bands even entered elementary school), the groups that will make a lasting impression beyond this moment are the ones that will challenge their audiences to hear in their music not just fond memories, but also the future.
Made up of Andrew Comer (former member of short-lived band Tel Aviv), Joshua Zucker, and Bill Kuehn (of Rainer Maria), Prosaics play a brief, agitated set of music bristling with pent-up power and internalized perplexity—the sort that promises their listeners something to ponder in this moment and for time to come. The thesis of their sound is built around machine gun bass lines, forged by the electrolytic stylings of Zucker, creating a firing squad backdrop for Kuehn’s combative drumming and the surprise attack of Comer’s guitar. But don’t let these violent analogies confuse you. While their speedy and exacting music could easily background the frenetic anarchism that often runs amok in the genre, Comer’s vocals—often distanced, but a bit (New) romantic—give the music an isolated sweetness and, dare I say, a peace.
In this way, Prosaics’ music brazes styles against one another more than it blends them—and their stage presence embodies this mission. Comer, who sings with his eyes closed as if he’s channeling spirits, is a foil to Zucker, whose body jive suggests that he’s receiving 10,000 volts directly from his bass. Kuehn, behind his drumset, centers their binaries with clockwork momentum and monster fortitude. The audience, in kind, mirrors what they see on stage, resulting in a mélange of solemn thinkers and body jackers, some wavering between one or the other, but all determined to internalize the spectacle.
Tonight, it’s obvious that Prosaics are tight, creative musicians with more going on inside their heads than they’re showing at this moment. Their short set, while electrifying, is largely symmetrical, displaying little by the way of the tempo or stylistic surprises. And music like theirs always gives up something in live translation, which tends to be unforgiving to precision or razor-sharp edges. I await recorded output—in an ideal setting, Prosaics could crystallize every sound and deliver them like subliminal messages, causing all listeners to fall into alignment, shifting our bodies in robotic unison until we rubbed our hinges raw.
If Prosaics delivered order and symmetry, it will be undone in minutes by the entropy of the 90 Day Men.
The chaos begins as soon as 90 Day Men enter the stage. While Prosaics were practically uniform—white, clean-shaven, neo-Mod 20somethings—90 Day Men are all over the map: a motley crew of a funky brother, an art school outcast, and two rather non-descript white boys. And the crew of die-hards who vie for prime location near the stage is even less telling—dudes sporting Abercrombie & Fitch, almost ravers, rocker chicks, hipsters, skate punks.
But when the band emits the first battle cry of 2001 release To Everybody, “I’ve Got Designs on You”, the attendees agree on one thing—this was what they have come for. The diverse crowd suddenly bury themselves in the rhythm as the Men roll along the coaster of their noise, all the members reeling as if listening to (and playing) different songs. The core of the audience becomes a wave of fists rising, bodies hunkering down and driving forward, muscling through the sound. It was amazing that that many different people could find that many different ways to revel to the same thing—sort of like watching a choreographed riot.
90 Day Men, a four-piece out of Chicago, defiantly play music that undoes genre categorizations—the closest approximation I can give is a prog funk jam band, like a primal cross between Kool and the Gang and King Crimson. Needless to say, their music is anything but easy, and often is downright confusing. Rob Lowe and Brian Case sing like embattled animals, while the drums, keyboard, bass, and guitar that back them seem to do everything those instruments are not supposed to do. Recorded, this is the kind of stuff that takes listen upon listen to enter, and it’s understandable that some might be intimidated by it. But onstage it somehow all makes a carnal, instinctual, automatic sort of sense.
This can only be attributed to the way in which Cayce Key (drums), Andy Lansangan (keyboards), Rob Lowe (vocals, bass), and Brian Case (vocals, guitar) let the music absolutely control them—animating them like those little toys that move in tandem with whatever noise they hear. Case plays like he’s crawling out of his own skin, while Lowe will lift up his bass performatively, letting it reverb and answer. Lansangan is surprisingly and almost amusingly mild-mannered, while Key plays drums like he’s trying to kill something living inside. Everything looks and sounds like it’s falling apart—except that it’s staying together.
But I’m not staying until the end of the set. There’s something about the rumble of the crowd that hints at violence—and the overabundance of sound produced by the 90 Day Men seems to egg this on. Their music—fierce, beastial, yet decidedly heady—devolves the packed room into automatons driven by their most basic instinct. Something’s bound to happen—and there doesn’t seem to be enough space on the floor to fuck.