THC hits some bands in a wham-bam fury of ideas and anecdotes (making them impossible to keep quiet). Others are content to sit quietly and snack.
PopMatters Events Editor
If the freak-folk scene was a smoking circle, Devendra Banhart would be the outgoing stoner at the head of the table -- the one with big plans who rules the room with non-sequiturs and off-kilter jokes. The THC hits him in a wham-bam fury of ideas and anecdotes, and he's awfully friendly (if impossible to shut up). Subtlety is not his thing, and quietude is not what he's seeking. Espers, on the other hand, are the smooth, steady smilers -- the guys couched in the corner wearing those ever-subtle grins. Their squinted eyes and silent lips exude a simple wisdom (which they may or may not actually possess). They're Chong to Banhart's Cheech (or Teller to his Penn), quietly embracing the moment, courting the high, and developing it in anticipation of some subtle moment of realization. In other words, unlike Banhart, they're content to sit quietly and snack. And their fans follow suit. As I arrive, pushing haphazardly through the packed bar of Williamsburg's Lucky Cat, I notice pockets of reserved pseudo-hippy intelligentsia. They're not brazen in their appearance or in their conversation. They may or may not be stoners, but the members of this rag-tag army are gathered by some intangibly communal spirit. Cross-legged on the floor, they peacefully await the band's performance. Of course, there's another journey to be taken before Espers grace the stage, and by all indications, it may harsh some highs. As Polyvinyl act Picastro begins to warm up the crowd (though "warm" isn't really the right word), singer Liz Hysen drags atonal, Nico-esuqe vocals slowly across sparse guitar, drums, and cello arrangements. She's got a Grace Slick-like affectation on the edge of her voice and a bad attitude to boot. It's important to note that "bad" and "badass" are very different adjectives in this case. Hysen sings (and speaks between songs) with an imposed-upon edge that reminds me of the conversations you have when you've been roped into the corner of a party by that depressing girl with "problems". Indeed, as the singer herself explains in a rather laboriously rendered monologue, if people judge a person's music by their personality, it's pretty obvious why Picastro isn't hugely popular. Still, the band manages a few impressive (if moody) numbers, layering noisy, and off-key bows and plucks on the cello -- which the sound-man at one point nervously mistakes for a short in the PA speaker -- with simple acoustic melodies. It's pleasing in its similarity to the music of bands like Quix*o*tic or Young People, but retains less of the dark, sexy edges that make those acts so intriguing.