[26 March 2003]
Photo Credit: Natalie Gruppuso
In a move analogous to the 1978 simultaneous release of four Kiss solo albums, all six members of the Moldy Peaches performed solo at Luxx on March 13. In both cases, these indulgent stunts demonstrate not an egalitarian commitment to musical democracy, or a bountiful overflow of talent that demands expression, but rather an unrestrained self-importance that suggests a band reveling in its own hype. But another name for such near-instinctive self-regard is charisma, and such charisma probably explains why anyone has paid any attention to the Moldy Peaches in the first place (their music doesn’t especially justify it).
It being nearly impossible at this point to contrive an original approach to rock music, the most important decision facing a new rock band is what particular genre to mimic. Moldy Peaches bassist Steve Mertens’ as-yet-unnamed project seemed to be considering a number of possibilities. At times they sounded like a Bad Wizard-style ‘70s tribute band, with some organ and piano to give it that Uriah Heep feel. A few songs sounded like earnest ‘80s arena rock, and few songs sounded like attempts at funk. Other times they sounded like roots revivalists in the spirit of the Black Crowes. But when the guitarist played some slide, the performance careened straight into Blueshammer territory. They seemed entirely sincere about what they were playing, which, curiously enough, was a flaw, particularly in the context of what the Moldy Peaches do. The problem with venturing into so many different stylistic territories without a sense of irony to unify the trip is that no matter how well the styles are done, they still don’t come across convincingly. Without a sense of what the band is trying to achieve, the whole performance comes across as obligatory, which, in this case, spoiled an otherwise competently played set.
Stylistic consistency wasn’t a problem for Stipplicon, which features one of the Moldy Peaches’ guitarists and their drummer. They played a rote version of post-punk in front of apparently arbitrary projected video images. The usual hallmarks were in place: snarling, often chanted vocals, atonal guitar squalls, sputtering and jarring rhythms, droning bass licks lifted off of Joy Division records, and so on. The original post-punk bands of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s created their music in a spirit of negation and critique. The formal choices made by bands like the Fall, the Gang of Four, and the Au Pairs were dictated by their political commitments, which were proclaimed overtly in their lyrics. But the bands who copy this style now did so first out of a slavish commitment to the pursuit of novelty, the engine of the consumerism the original post-punk bands deplored, and then out of a compulsion to conform to the identified sound trend of their time and place. Rather than expressing concern for the direction society seems to be heading, bands like Stipplicon seem to be merely expressing contempt for the audiences they imagine won’t get them. Appreciating such music is no more a matter of a broadening one’s consciousness but instead a matter of gaining membership to a club of hipster savants.
The audience sat on the floor for Kimya Dawson’s set, which she performed on acoustic guitar with some very minimal support from a drummer. Her repetitive songs, with their torrents of humdrum images and slabs of everyday life, seemed longer than they probably were because holding on to them required such an immense amount of concentration. Dawson sang her mass of observations without affect or emphasis, and without a consistent effort to project her voice, an approach which served to make her sound child-like. Her heavy reliance on lullaby melodies reinforced this impression. With her tremulous voice cracking and trailing away, she succeeded in making her little girl act sad rather than cute, which seemed to be the sum total of what she wanted to accomplish. It’s strange that someone so young should be so haunted, so nostalgic about childhood. Considering how the rapt young crowd seemed to share her nostalgia makes one suspect that our culture’s intense idealization (and exploitation) of youth makes every one already too old, too self-aware of being young to really enjoy it.
Closing the show was Adam Green, whose act was certainly the most polished. His clear strong voice (part Jim Croce, part Kermit the Frog), and his careful, almost academic arrangements on guitar, made him come across like some wayward member of the Kingston Trio. Actually, Roger Miller (the “Dang Me!” Miller, not the Mission of Burma one) makes a better comparison, considering Green’s penchant for novelty songs. Green’s occasional detours during his set into faux-Leonard Cohen territory suggest he wants to be taken more seriously than that, but his low-road vulgarity and petty pot-shots at sitting duck targets (e.g. yuppies at Starbucks) prevents that. It’s clear Green is trying to develop a poetic style: one could easily imagine his music evolving into something like what David Berman does with Silver Jews. Unfortunately, at this point, one can also imagine Green becoming Loudon Wainwright III, making smug, “clever” songs for the comedy music crowd.