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Auf Der Maur

(16 Jun 2004: Mercury Lounge — New York)


It’s around the fifth song that some of the snickering, arm-crossing, industry types begin leaving the back room of the Mercury Lounge in hot pursuit of the bar, or perceivably, a more glittering engagement. Melissa Auf Der Maur and her band are performing “Taste You” off her eponymous debut, which she introduces as a song about “wanting and tasting, and tasting and wanting some more”—and no, she’s not kidding. The regrettable lyrics aren’t much better than her description, but the idea of insatiable romantic and carnal longing lends itself well to Auf Der Maur’s brand of stadium-ready, resonant rock and roll.


With some of the naysayers gone, it’s easier to focus on the flame-haired bassist and her proclaimed task at hand of rocking “your ass just a little bit harder and faster.” While Auf Der Maur’s embrace of clichés like this one is pretty groan-worthy, her enthusiasm provides a palatable foil. Fellow bassist Kim Gordon once wrote for Artforum that people pay to see others believe in themselves. Gordon could very well have been speaking directly to Auf Der Maur, who is confidently strutting and posing onstage with her bass as if it were a battle axe, mirroring the black and white photos that pepper her album liner notes.


Between songs, the backup band, consisting of two guitarists, a keyboard player and drummer, wait while Auf Der Maur chalks up her hands and wipes her brow with a fluffy white towel. A guitar tech hands her another freshly tuned instrument. This kind of production seems overkill for a venue more intimate than an arena, but if you were seeking to canonize yourself as a rock star, why limit yourself based on your environment? No doubt, Auf Der Maur’s stint playing for prominent alternative bands Hole and The Smashing Pumpkins has prepared her for a certain level of acclaim, or at the least, many fluffy white towels.


But remarkably, this pedigree doesn’t manifest into the kind of bloated narcissism that plague former band mates Courtney Love and Billy Corgan. Auf Der Maur is a surprisingly gracious entertainer, who is obviously thrilled to be performing her own material and realizing her own vision. Never mind that this vision reportedly came from a dream she had about space aliens, or that the songs borrow heavily on the kind of sound that she helped to popularize about ten years ago.


Eccentricity can be a major asset for a performer, and that’s a credo that Auf Der Maur seems to have taken to heart in such numbers as “Skin Receiver” and “I Need I Want I Will”. The first number is constructed around a thundering guitar riff in the vein of Heart’s “Barracuda” and terrifying samples of horses whinnying, during which the singer leaves her bass behind and prances around the stage in a rodeo gallop. The latter expounds further on those prophetic space aliens with the aid of some laughable vocal effects stuck on the “doom” setting.


Both songs are theatrical and comical, and I take heart at the idea that I am watching someone who is living out her own personal rock and roll fantasy, however questionable that might be by people who don’t necessarily share the vision. Of course, not all moments in the set are stellar, such as the need to un-ironically “tune down to D” before striking with the bombastic “Lightning Is My Girl” or the indulgent “Overpower Thee”, where deficient lyrics are repeated too often. But these flaws are slight consequences that could largely be overlooked.


The show concludes with the radio-friendly “Followed The Waves”. It contains sludgy riffs that both teenage boys familiar with bands like System of a Down, and those stricken with nineties nostalgia could equally love, in other words—ready for heavy rotation on KROQ.


But that’s alright, if Auf Der Maur wants to continue to make good on her extraterrestrial commitment to play big, loud music, she’s going to need a lot of people to follow her to the spaceship. And it doesn’t look like she’ll have much trouble taking off.

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