It started with a song, or, more correctly, a single strum on a fuzzed-out guitar. I listened to that tune—which stood out amongst the fifteen others my friend had given me—every day for two straight weeks. I never grew sick of it. One-minute-and-fifty-five seconds of solid sound.
I called my buddy in Wisconsin, the one who’d given it to me, for more information about this unmistakable sound. Who were these guys? Where did this underground energy come from? How could I get my hands on more? I told him I was developing an addiction to “Not High,” one simple song in a world of millions, and I couldn’t escape the attraction.
22 Dec 2006: Cake Shop New York, NY
But there was no sign of Times New Viking.
Well, not until I punched “Times New Viking” into the internet (I don’t think very fast).
What I found was a Columbus, Ohio, band who played steady live gigs in and around their home state, nothing more. The band didn’t have a website, no definitive label information. If “Not High” was recorded for an album, its only home was an EP that was well out of my reach.
Months passed: no sign of the band touring through New York. I had given up. This was destined to be a one-hit wonder, a modern gem mirroring some late ‘60s band that, while revolutionary, never reached the heights of their inspired early efforts.
Which, with a grimace, I can empathize with: what if the band that recorded this unmistakably catchy song listened to it after a long day, thinking, Why keep going? Is anything going to sound better than this? It’s possible that happened. Maybe they, unlike our hypothetical love-era outfit, knew to quit while they were ahead. And I wouldn’t blame them: after all, the perfect song, heard at the right moment, can serve as a soundtrack for everything we’ve ever needed in our lives. If you’ve already achieved that, what else is there?
Until December 21, all I needed from Times New Viking was one song. Then I picked up an Onion and found the Cake Shop’s announcement that they’d be playing a concert the next night, Pavloved into toe-taps, elbow jerks, and buzz-steady guitar.
I needed this.
* * *
Cake Shop offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner; a “slew” of cakes; new and used vinyl; and tapes, comic books, and DVDs. It’s like visiting a friend’s house in high school: mom’s always around to cook something; dad has cool, weird taste in music; and there’s a basement where you can retreat to play loud guitar and do whatever the fuck you want. It’s exactly like high school, except you need money to hang out there.
Doors opened at 8 pm, but the first band in a trio, Psychedelic Horseshit, didn’t start until 10:20. Times New Viking started near midnight, and took the least amount of time to set up and mic-check before diving headfirst into song. Guitar, drums, and keys. Give ‘em a microphone and they’re off.
With a “check check one” from keyboardist/vocalist Beth Murphy and drummer/vocalist Adam Elliott, the race was nearly on, delayed only so Murphy could usher the timid audience closer to the stage. “Get up here,” she pointed directly in front of her. “Get right against the stage and hold it.”
There are certain moments in my day when I need electric guitar. When car horns grow defensive and brake pads start fading, when intrusive cell phones lambaste the fragility of public domain, when I’m sleepy and caffeine won’t jumpstart my bones, when dogs bark at each other with aggravated indifference, when old people scowl at unbridled youth, when love sucks, when an experiment fails, when the moonlight sets up victory, when a confined space turns on me and I can’t get out fast enough, when people complain over nothing. When all I hear is fuzz, I need a chaotic re-awakening. I need it. A guitar that sings like a banshee.
And then, swelling like Swell Maps, or some equally invigorated post-punk demon, Times New Viking were there, flinging guitar debris, spewing flotsam borne of feedback. Elliott hit the skins like he’d had the flu all week, he couldn’t get rid of it, and the only thing he wanted to do before he died was play this set. His Tommy-gun drumming and muffled vocals inspired Jared Phillips’ six-string responses, as Murphy’s keyboards sailed over oceanic reverb. Crisp, succinct, two-minute lo-fi gut-blasts are TNV’s signature.
A young kid dancing up front had enough energy to assemble his own armada. The music caused him to lash out, pushing his buttons, kissing glass and licking sky. No method. No precognitive elegance. Times New Viking hooked the audience when we thought we had them cornered.
The lead singer of Psychedelic Horseshit, one of my favorite new band names (next to I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness) started a friendly shoving match in the audience. He kept his head low; his drink occasionally spilled over his hand as he set off a near-fistfight. The sparkplug kid in the front got knocked down during a melee that I was convinced would spill onstage, but everything righted itself. The kid stood up, a thin-necked champion of friendly mosh.
The new year looks to be a big one for Times New Viking. Their next LP, present the paisley reich (Siltbreeze), arrives in February, followed by the boons of a newly announced record contract with Matador. I’m might be screwing myself by exposing their excellence – giving away that gem I held so precious, but I simply refuse to be selfish about it There is nothing that will take away the sensation of listening to that one song, wondering where the rest of the sound would be going, and if it ever would be found. It was. I’m keeping my ears open for the next one.