The night of the New York City Junior Senior show finds me suffering from one of those nasty, lingering colds that make my sinuses feel like they’ve been stuffed with wads of wet felt. I hack and snuffle a little self-consciously through the opening act, local new wave outfit the Affair. Singer Kali Holloway is spunky in her requisite pink and black striped shirt, mini-skirt and studded belt. She channels Blondie via admitted influences the Ronettes. “Whoa-uh-ohs” are common punctuation in fluffy stories about boys and girls that kiss and breakup.
1 Nov 2003: Bowery Ballroom New York
The band is capable, but everyone comes across a bit stiff. Like a page out of an Urban Outfitters catalog, it’s stylish, trendy and flat. I find it a bit curious when Holloway announces a forthcoming single on Vice Records. It will be interesting to see how this sugary Shangri-La pop holds up under Vice’s slick veneer of listless irony.
The Danish duo of Junior Senior also favors Sixties girl groups and a good time, but with an abandon that leaves little room for cynical posturing. At least, most of the folks in this sold-out crowd are in on the joke, as evident by a hunky guy strutting around in a snug black tee shirt that reads “Senior Lover.” Even though I don’t have MTV back at the ranch, and haven’t heard much of their booty-shaking repertoire, I know that Senior is the big, gay one and Junior is the little, straight one. Hey, that kind of brand recognition worked for that brother and sister band from Detroit didn’t it? Or something.
The cast of characters that make up this band could easily create their own campy variety show. There are two back up singers, a hip girl and a boy who wears his fedora cocked like Justin Timberlake, a beefy rockabilly drummer who could pass for a long lost Stray Cat, the wee blonde Junior, and a scrawny bass player with shock of reddish Yahoo Serious hair.
At the first strains of “Go Junior, Go Senior,” the audience instantly switches into a synchronized dance party. There is anticipation as folks chant, “Go Senior, Go Senior” in their best pep squad voices. Just a little aside here—but the lilting Danish accent makes this word sound like “Seen-yah” which is super fun to say, even without being punch drunk.
There’s a millisecond pause in the music, and then Senior pops out stage left. He is greeted with wild cheering from a crowd that is ready to let the good times shake. Apparently, just about everyone here is a Senior lover. They recognize him as their penultimate rock lobster and clownish MC, resplendent in his red and black Bill Cosby sweater and super fat gold chain.
The amalgam of Kool and the Gang disco funk and Wham! cheese raises the level of excitement in the room so that it could easily float a few of those giant beach balls. I’m a little taken aback as the crowd claps, shakes and shouts at Junior Senior’s aerobic instruction. They seem practiced, and I feel a little like the guest at the wedding reception who has a runny nose and doesn’t know how to do the Electric Slide.
Between songs, Senior gushes that this is the group’s anniversary appearance in New York, as their first performance had been during the CMJ festival that had launched Junior Senior’s venerable dance-pop career. There is joking about singles and record contracts, but super sweet, tooth aching sincerity when he says, “I don’t know if you got all that, but we mean it.”
There’s a phenomenon that happens during good live shows where the audience and the performers are buoyed by their mutual appreciation for each other. Magnify that against the effervescent bliss of bouncy pop songs, and you have a gooey love fest on your hands. But thankfully the emphasis here is on movement and not much more, so no need to let complicated thoughts get tangled up into any of it. I mean, heck, normally I would be mortified at the sight of a cowbell, but it’s kinda cool how Senior hits it with such fun authority during the bluesy Stones send up “Boy Meets Girl”.
The best part of the show just might be when Junior belts his nasal Michael Jackson refrain on “Move Your Feet”. He pulls it off with more feeling in his tiny frame than the man who made “Thriller” a constant staple of my childhood soundtrack could ever muster now. The instruction to “everybody, move your feet and feel united” is irresistible. So I move, blowing my nose to the rhythm.