Ok Go

[19 April 2005]

By Dave Brecheisen

Ok Go

It’s strange when a band has a young fan base and you’re not, well, young. The energy of the Black Cat, which normally hurtles forward like a drunken train wreck, suddenly morphs, taking on a strange vibe that’s not immediately identifiable. It confused me for a moment before I placed it: I was at the prom.

Damn, I was just starting to get over the rejection of the last one. But I’m resilient and when I ascertained that there would be virtually no competition for bar space, I quickly got over it. I’m simple and this is all it takes to make me happy.

On occasion the teens ordering Ginger Beer did distract me. They held insane conversations about stealing their parents’ money, making out, and sneaking booze around in the trunks of their cars. It was a little disturbing and a little nostalgic, a little annoying and a little entertaining. Ultimately I realized the show was a “must attend” event for the area high schoolers and decided to take it all in as part of the experience. Besides, none of this is OK Go’s fault, right? Well maybe, but it doesn’t matter. They play pop music that I enjoy, so I go to see them.

OK Go, originally hailing from the District, relocated to Chicago after coming to the realization that Washington is no place to be a pop band. With only three or four real venues and a transient population, building a loyal fan base here can be a proverbial bitch.

A little over a year ago, when OK Go played the Black Cat, the crowd was treated to a sort of reunion when the band performed Toto’s “Hold the Line” with former member Burleigh Seaver (also a DC native) on keys. I was hoping for a repeat performance, or to hear their version of “Crimson and Clover” but it was not to be, though we did receive an impromptu reenactment of a scene from Les Mis.

Dressed to the hilt in suits and ties, OK Go took to the stage around 11:30, playing four new songs before launching into tracks from their self-titled debut. It’s a tricky thing being on the road in support of a new album that doesn’t come out for 3 months—it’s now due out in August, pushed back from its original July date—especially when your show depends on building the crowd’s energy.

For the first new songs the crowd seemed a little listless, waiting for the punch of guitars and melodies that they recognized. Fortunately, these eventually came when the band played “There’s a Fire”. As Damian Kulash stammers and pleads the line, “this isn’t like the last time”, we heard a live rendition of one of the debut album’s finer moments (I’m also a sucker for the keyboard riff).

OK Go treads in uncertain waters. Sometimes their sound is bizarre and at others it’s the catchiest pop you’ve ever heard. They’re just so damn smart and well versed as musicians that they cannot be pigeonholed. It’s a blessing for the ears of the music community; a bane in the eyes and ears of music labels and radio (though I no longer think they have ears). The choruses and the riffs are steeped in traditional pop melodies, but there’s something discordant about their guitar lines and harmonies, something that strikes off-center rather than where you expected it to land. Lyrically, the songs don’t sacrifice their wit for the sake of melody; they are fun without being dumb (“C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips” notwithstanding).

Live, the song rocks like an arena. With stomping drums, anthemic chorus, and lyrics like, “Got a job, got a life/ got a four-door and a faithless wife/ Got those nice copper pipes/ got an ex, got a room for the night”, it’s hard not to find yourself nodding your head and singing along.

This would be a good time to note that OK Go has a new guitar/keys player and he shreds. It may be an overstatement to say he breathed fresh life into the songs, but it would be appropriate to say that he adds a new dynamic, one that is both exciting and unique.

Unfortunately “Get Over it” signaled to the crowd that the show was winding down and a few even headed for the exit. At 12:45 can you blame them? Don’t want to be late for homeroom. A handful of songs followed; one included a drum solo that was either the height of percussive mastery or a disaster.

The band stopped, started and stopped, half-started, paused and started again. Soon after, as all things rock do, the show ended, and the encore began. But wait. No. There is no encore, only the band performing a choreographed, boy band dance routine to “C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips”. I’ve seen this before and I enjoyed just as much this time around.

Now the show was over. No encore. And thank goodness because it was late and our nation’s youth need their beauty sleep.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/ok-go-050410/