From the hip-swiveling dynamo that was Elvis in the 1950s, through the dirty city smarts of the Velvet Underground in the 1960s, through the spitting and swearing juggernaut that was the Sex Pistols in the 1970s, through the melancholy teenage angst of Nirvana in the 1990s, one of the dominant tropes in rock ‘n’ roll has been the continued attempt to boldly undermine conservative, middle class values. Under that framework, therefore, The Moldy Peaches are quintessentially rock ‘n’ roll.
A mere physical description of the band as they took the stage around 11:15 PM, May 2nd, 2002, at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, makes this abundantly clear: one rhythm guitarist waltzed out in a huge, fuzzy, white sheep and/or unicorn costume (judging from the lone horn jutting out from the forehead); another sported a referee’s black and white striped shirt accompanied by a knee-length, black skirt; while vocalist Kimya Dawson commandeered the center of the stage in an ominous, Obi Wan Kenobe-style brown cloak, hood up, concealing her face from view. The only Peach that even approached modest attire was vocalist Adam Green, who, in his vintage leather coat and tight blue jeans, looked like a reject from fellow NYC rockers, The Strokes. Taken as a unit, however, the Moldy Peaches looked like your parent’s worst nightmare: a group of crazy kids in demented Halloween costumes singing wacky rock ‘n’ roll music.
The Moldy Peaches’ sound does not pale in comparison with their wardrobe. They are everything you want them to be. On songs like “County Fair” and “Who’s Got the Crack?” they are loud and raucous rockers in the long New York punk tradition. They can also slow it down, as they do on such cheeky-cute ballads as “Anyone Else but You” and “Rainbows”. Their sound is tight and energetic. They zipped through their hour set with both determined vigor and fun-loving ease.
Standing in the crowd in the Bowery Ballroom, I was surrounded by the usual retinue of East Village pop-rock fans: wild teenage girls in rave-bracelets and pig-tails, stylish young couples in ridiculously overpriced vintage clothing, as well as a few hairy potheads in search of new savior since the demise of the Grateful De . . . uh, I mean, Phish. As soon as the Peaches launched into the rollicking “County Fair”, however, this disparate group of mopey twenty-somethings united in jubilant release. The crowd jumped and wiggled throughout the entire set, singing along in that loud, uninhabited way that cultish fans tend to do.
That release is the key to the Peaches’ appeal. After listening to their comedic, endearing, sweet odes to Nintendo, puppy love, and, I kid you not, Pizza Hut pizza, you read their garish getup not as attempting to threaten middle class conformity but rather as the embodiment of the high school geek’s ultimate dream. The logic goes something like this: “One day I’ll wear my ugly clothes and indulge in my neurotic obsession in front of thousands of people—and they’ll like me! That’ll show those stupid jocks!”
The telling moment of the evening came during the rocking “D2 Boyfriend”, a sad, sad tale about lost teenage love. In this rocker’s chorus, however, vocalist Kimya Dawson triumphantly threw back her cloak’s hood to reveal her outrageous mop of frizzy, frazzled hair (I still can’t decide if it’s a wig or not), chanting the invigorating chorus, “Be yourself!” That’s ultimately the message of the Peaches—a steadfast, interminable commitment to genuine self-expression, no matter how silly or childish it may be.
While they may often be linked to the critics’ darlings, The Strokes, the Peaches are nowhere near as pretentious. We all know the Strokes are posers—we forgive them because they are so damn good at it. The Peaches, for all their outlandish behavior, are in utmost earnest. The results are so wacky because at heart they are true blue nerds. The carnivalesque party they threw at the Bowery Ballroom is their ultimate revenge. Maybe, just maybe, one of the jocks from their old high school was in the crowd, now joining the geeks in their selfless struggle to, well, be themselves.