Reviews

The D4 + The Electric Six

Mike Prevatt
The D4 + The Electric Six

The D4 + The Electric Six

City: Los Angeles
Venue: The Troubadour
Date: 2003-03-18
Dion, lead guitarist for the D4, was standing at the edge of the stage at L.A.'s Troubadour club. Would he or wouldn't he? As if you had to ask. The unflappable yet uncontrollable musician had marked his territory on every square inch of the stage thus far, and, really, the only place he hadn't sniffed out yet was the pit. And so he went, showboating with his six-string while a circle of admittedly nonplussed fans surrounded him. "It's not enough that I've joined you thankless twats," he seemed to fume as he spazzed out on the Troub floor, then suddenly he was on his back, thrashing about like a man possessed, never seeming to miss a beat. "Now we're talking!" the nearby audience collectively conveyed, a response good enough to send these hyperactive Kiwis off smiling to the next city. Rock 'n' roll offered, rock 'n' roll served -- if a little self-consciously. Add another garage-style rock band to the MTV2 roster -- this trend isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Not that it's gone very far to begin with. American music fans have watched but not necessarily glorified these tussled, unkempt, sonically throttling bands; it's not so much the malljammers throwing up devil's-horns hand signs like they be representin', yo, but forlorn music writers and the remaining ten percent of college students not subscribing to the Gospel of Dave Matthews. Once the smoke clears and the ringing in your ears subsides to the mild tinnitus you'll never dispose of, the new rock movement -- or nu-garage, or ratty rock, or Raw Power 2.0, whichever you prefer -- probably won't have produced any Nirvana-esque bands to knock Linkin Park off its pedestal. Perhaps we never really liked their music -- must've been the duds and the bedhead we adored. Not to hear the British music press tell it. Since 2001, the return of rock's rawness has been a godsend, and it has lionized every garage band that ever found favor with CMJ or covered the MC5, regardless of talent or songwriting chops. First, it was a few random bands from America (the Strokes, the White Stripes), then the hacks looked the other direction and found Stonesmania alive and well in Scandinavia (the Hives, Sahara Hotnights, the Division of Laura Lee, to name a few), and they jumped continents to dig up Down Under, finding the Aussie poster children for Ritalin (the Vines) and Buzzcocks fandom among the young underground Kiwi scene. Which brings us to D4, whom the NME stand to build up (and, surely, take down when the next Urban Outfitters-safe band comes along) as purveyors of indie amp rock that matters. But, do these new tastemakers hear melodies and innovation we don't? The five-year-old band from Auckland City does little to mask its influences or re-envision its swaggering blues-punk. Look no further than the song titles for a glimpse at budding garage hegemony. You have D4's "Rocknroll Motherfucker" -- which makes a great T-shirt, by the way -- versus fellow Kiwis the Datsuns, who scored a late 2002 hit in the U.K. with "Motherfucker From Hell" (that's "MF From Hell" for the American release). D4's single "Get Loose" conjures up the Vines' "Get Free", the wordplay as repetitive as the bands' choruses. D4's recently released album, 6Twenty, might deliver on Brit-crit's promise if only the band had bothered to pen something worth singing along to. Drinking songs like "Party", "Come On!" and "Get Loose" might as well belong to Andrew W.K. (minus the blaring synths and bloody noses), in both name and in spirit. There's nothing ironic or subversive or dynamic here -- 6Twenty revels in just being loud rock 'n' roll, its unrefined bombast being the sole end product. While the record doesn't stick as well as it should, the band's true medium for maximum aural penetration is the live show -- evidenced in leaps and bounds at the Troub on the 18th. Though on the eve of war, which even these fun lovin' kids couldn't avoid referencing, the D4 offered a soundtrack for escapism -- namely, the majority of 6Twenty -- in one tireless performance. One might add shameless, too. The show was highlighted by the Pete Townshend calisthenics of Dion (displaying some Ben Lee facial cuteness that kept him from seeming too reckless), and the glistening work ethic of singer Jimmy Christmas, who compensated for his lackluster vocal skills by emanating a genuine leadman presence, pleasantly thwarted from time to time by smiles that fearlessly suggested, "I may not get laid tonight, but I am having more fun than I know what to do with." The rhythm section -- bassist Vaughan and drummer Beaver -- kept things focused and tight, while Dion threw out a few guitar solos whenever the wind seemed to hit him. In underground rock circles, everyone knows only Doug Martsch and Thurston Moore are allowed axe solos. But Dion proved his worth as a musical craftsman early on in the concert, and whatever he wanted to do with his instrument was fine by us -- and, by his fellow bandmates too. No matter the ostentation, he was always in sync with the rest of the stage's players, and more than eager to please. Not that there was many of us to win over. Despite the band having already played L.A. a mere two months before, the gig should have been sold out, but it was half-full at best (with half of those patrons boasting Kiwi accents, to boot). The crowd, though visibly sated by the set's end, never mustered that collective enthusiasm that makes a great gig -- even though D4 gave them a fierce rocking, and support act the Electric Six had given them a proper warm-up. . Thanks mostly to the compelling ebullience of singer Dick Valentine (who names these musicians -- Marilyn Manson and Hallmark?), E6 was the "get loose" the audience might've been looking for in the D4. Now there were grooves and melodies you could latch on to. There was style and attitude aided by attempted songwriting. There was the variety of sounds and tones that never had to bang "punk rock" over anyone's head. In fact, they was more like dance music -- well, at least more rhythmic than the D4. That band provided the classic visceral thrill of watching an unhinged live act. The musicians in Electric Six, however, juggled musicianship and tunefulness enough to offer something revelatory to both in-the-know and unsuspecting onlookers. Where's their assigned alt-genre? Probably stamped out like a smoke.

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