If there’s one thing that most popular musicians loathe, it’s labels. But it’s convenient to consign an artist to a particular category, and it often happens that those who most vehemently protest labels actually deserve them most of all. Still, some labels just aren’t fair—not necessarily because they’re off the mark, but rather because they carry powerfully negative connotations that can doom a good band in spite of their veritable skill and talent. To see what I mean, just try saying, “Hey, emo isn’t so bad,” in a roomful of thirty-something no-wave buffs, and see how long it takes before the condescending eyerolls send you searching out the nearest dark corner.
The Lucksmiths + The Sprites
27 Jul 2003: Radio Radio Indianapolis, Indiana
Another label that invariably gets an unfair rap is twee. The word connotes an inherent childishness, suggesting a lack of musical complexity and intellectual seriousness. To many high-brow rock aficionados, “twee” suggests a perky frivolousness that is enjoyed only by sensitive, starry-eyed boys and girls who prefer sugary simplicity to anything that might force them to contemplate depth and darkness.
The Lucksmiths, who by all means are twee through and through, prove that if you invest too much in labels, you might miss out big. There’s no denying that there’s a whimsical, almost frilly quality to their music (that they’re skinny, endlessly amiable fellows with lilting Australian accents certainly doesn’t help), but anyone with an ear for captivating melodies and an appreciation for smart, literate songwriting would have a hard time disputing the quality of their music.
Taliesyn White (lead vocals and drums), Marty Donald (guitar), and Mark Monnone (bass) crank out simple, catchy tunes with the same effortlessness that most of us associate with breathing. White’s lyrics, although at times excessively cutesy, are more often than not marvelously clever, vividly descriptive, and heartrendingly candid. Together, the Lucksmiths are the perfect example of a band who make their appointed label work for them rather than vice versa, manipulating it to fit their own intensely singular artistic vision.
It was a big, happy surprise to find out that the Lucksmiths were stopping in Indianapolis on their tour through the states. As a band with a notoriously devoted but modest cult following, I expected their stops in Indiana to be confined to gas stations and rest stops. Apparently, however, one of their enthusiastic fans in Indy managed to lure them our way. The few dozen fans who showed up at Radio Radio on a Sunday night are no doubt grateful for the effort, because the Melbourne-based trio put on a dazzling show that left the crowd wanting more even after a lengthy performance and a solid encore.
The first thing that strikes you about the Lucksmiths is their minimal, unconventional set-up. Lead singer Tali White helms the band standing center-stage behind a stripped-down drum kit, as Monnone and Donald flank him on either side with bass and guitar. On this night, their collective sound was startlingly rich, due in no small part to White’s fervent, hard-hitting abuse of the skins. From the first song on, the Lucksmiths had the audience members who stood before the stage bouncing high and singing along to White’s sweet, whispery tenor, which somehow managed to continually find its way to the top of the mix.
The setlist included songs from every era of the Lucksmiths’ long catalog of songs, scattering old favorites like “Smokers in Love” and “Myopic Friends” among newer numbers such as the plaintive “Camera-Shy” and the droll Smiths homage “There is a Boy that Never Goes Out”.
Opening for the Lucksmiths were the Sprites, a Washington, D.C. band that showed why twee is so often discounted as distilled pop preciousness. The Sprites at times showed potential, but they more often showed growing pains as their lead singer and guitarist Jason Korzen struggled to sing above the vaguely pleasant but generally unremarkable pop he and his four bandmates put together. Ultimately, the Sprites lacked the splendor that can be found in some of the bouncy gems produced by Korzen’s previous neo-New Wave band, Barcelona.
Happily, the lackluster set of the Sprites was rendered inconsequential by the outright excellence of the all-too-underappreciated Lucksmiths, who proved that, despite its shortcomings, twee is a genre that deserves to be heard—especially when it’s done with such enormous skill, sparkle, and above all else, smarts.