[6 September 2005]
The Dudley Corporation
It would be wrong to say this was my first experience with the Dudley Corporation, or that I went into this blind.
I had heard the band’s latest effort, 2003’s In Love With The Dudley Corporation and liked it peripherally. Seeing the band live, though, exposed a different side of the Dudley Corporation, one more musically schizoid than I could ever have expected. Their display was akin to fellow Dubliners the Frames, or perhaps even the Delgados.
The Dudley Corporation was playing to a near-empty room, but they were no worse for it. I shudder to think what performances like this do to bands too vain to accept that, on certain nights, in certain places, you will be forced to perform to 20 or 30 people. And here’s this band, flying all the way to the U.S. from Ireland, kicking off their tour in our college town to a grand total of 26 people—that’s including the sound crew, the venue managers, and one of the opening bands.
We, as fans and musicians alike, expect this to happen occasionally, and though it’s difficult to not feel awkward as an audience member in such an empty room, the Dudley Corporation still dazzled. The band made us forget our surroundings for a brief time. I was determined that, in light of this band’s performance, someone should write a manifesto: “This is How to Play to an Empty Room.”
In said manifesto, the first rule would be to play your heart out at all costs. It was not the band’s more developed songs, those which sound ‘tight’ or ‘together,’ that were particularly interesting. Sweat flew, bodies flailed on stage in a way that was almost awkward in the wide open space around us.
The band’s experiments with quiet and the loud tones were truly stunning. These sonic poles came very close to coexisting at several points throughout this set. The metamorphoses were near-violent as songs shifted from frontman Dudley’s unaccompanied whisper to a barrage of flailing guitar noise. In this way, the Dudley Corporation is your typical mixed bag. Just when you think you’re getting involved with a band whose pop-punk is so sickly sweet you can’t stand it (don’t worry, you like it anyway, though you might be ashamed to admit it), gears switch and the band is convulsing into sporadic Sonic Youth-esque walls of distortion. And they do it with such lightning-fast panache you forget it’s only three members on stage. Simply put, this band keeps it fresh and its catalog is multi-faceted.
If the audience is sparse and quiet, the band’s job is to bring the noise. This is another rule in the empty room manifesto. Though the band’s three members seemed exhausted and were obviously exerting themselves to a degree that was out of proportion to the size of the crowd, there was never more than one minute of silence between songs. In this way, the songs tended to bleed together; some were even segued into one another, creating patches of sound whose parts identified them as separate, though the playing designated them as a bunch.
Maybe it’s not so difficult to play to an empty room. Maybe it’s more like practice then a room that is half-full. Those in attendance, though, were attentive and appreciative. It was bassist Mark’s birthday. The band seemed in good spirits. But of course, the pain of playing to an attentive but small crowd pales in comparison to finding an entire crate of vinyl merch had been water-damaged in the mail. And Dudley was also hit by an unmanned runaway car in a Jewel-Osco parking lot. So maybe this was the better part of their day.
Though this show was, as Dudley calls it in his online Gig Diary, a “low key affair,” the Dudley Corporation were in good spirits, felt this was exactly what they needed, and perhaps might even come back again some day.