Someone should bake Film School some chocolate chip cookies and give them a big hug—these boys look like they’ve had a crappy week.
Of course, I have a feeling that the San Franciscan quintet—who sulked their way onto the Mercury Lounge stage—often don forlorn, melancholy looks. After all, it goes well with their music. Still, the group has had difficult time on this tour.
The unfortunate story of a hard-working group busting their asses to tour the country only to get their vehicle and gear stolen is not a new one (the Decemberists and Brian Jonestown Massacre both got hit this year), and Film School joined the ranks last week. Their brand new van was stolen out of a well-lit parking lot at a hotel along with all of their equipment. But for all their pouting, Film School persevered and pulled it together. And there is good news: the band doesn’t suck live.
Formed in 1998, the group has already put out a couple of EPs and a full length album, and is now touring in support of their official and proper indie rock “debut”: a recent, self-titled release on Beggars Banquet. The bad news is that their live act doesn’t do much to solve the problems presented on this latest release. The band has serious potential, but songs run together without much variation, and the result can be a monotonous wall of sound.
This becomes more of an issue live, when the listener is on his or her feet for prolonged periods of time, often (and especially in my case, being 5’2”) having to stand on tippy-toes or craning around a tall person in front. In order to make all this tedious and annoying physical effort worth it, the band has to keep the audience’s attention to prevent them from drifting off to make mental grocery lists.
I’m not sure if the members of Film School actually went to film school, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Dark, mysterious, serious, and intensely focused, the band began their barely hour-long set with “On & On” (coincidently the opening track to the latest record), instantly settling into a zone of distortion, cleverly repeated guitar riffs, dark dramatic lyrics, and a momentum that constantly seeks some sort of catharsis, but never quite finds it. This sense of constantly looking for release to no avail is part of Film School’s charm: we can all empathize with frustration and hopelessness, and to convey that through music is impressive. The problem, though, is that they drive the point home over and over again without exploring broader emotional territory.
Heartbreak, loss, missed chances, and betrayal are all frequent themes in Film School-Land. Lead singer/guitarist Krayg Burton channels a younger, thinner Robert Smith (think “Lovesong” days), singing with an endearing honesty. Distant, dreamy-sounding guitars, haunting, eerie melodies, and bittersweet vocals all evoke further comparisons to the Cure, but Film School doesn’t quite hit the same heights of joy and despair.
The set concentrates almost entirely on material from the recent album, including a respectable execution of one of the best tracks, “Breet”. Although the band’s members are all clearly trying their hardest and believe in their music, their individual energies never quite sync up. Bass player Justin LaBo stands dead center and hops, moving like he’s just had several cups of coffee. Jason Ruck seems a bit apathetic, tired of sitting at the keyboard in the back.
Frontman Krayg and other guitarist/back-up vocalist Nyles Lannon are both concentrating extremely hard, but take a few breaks to cut loose a little, and thankfully (unlike an absurd amount of current bands I’ve recently discovered) they don’t fake British accents. As for the drummer, he was pretty much out of my eyesight (I blame this yet again on my shortness). All of this aside, the Mercury Lounge can tend to be one of the more unflattering venues for bands in New York City.
In the end, I have faith in Film School. The ideas, passion and emotion are there, they just need to be organized, simplified, and pushed to broader places. Live, the band needs to realize that they themselves are not in a film but in front of an audience that craves a more active connection. If they can pull it all together, despite all the obstacles and stolen equipment, they could be looking at quite a remarkable future. If not, I’d probably still bake them some cookies. After all, everyone deserves some slack after being shafted by some no-good group of band-van stealing bastards.