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Mark Gardener + Goldrush + Tenki + Charlene

Chris Bailey
Mark Gardener + Goldrush + Tenki + Charlene

Mark Gardener + Goldrush + Tenki + Charlene

City: Chicago
Venue: Empty Bottle
Date: 2003-09-13

Mark Gardener
Goldrush
Charlene
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Friends Don't Let Friends Ride Drunk Mark Gardener, formerly of England's #1 shoegazers Ride, has slung his acoustic over his shoulder and is traveling around the States. Gardener is touring in support of his Falling Into the Night EP, on which he does his "Neil Young thing" with a Crazy Horse named Goldrush, who also serve as tour openers. Along for the tour is a surprisingly well-developed Boston band called Charlene, with a Chicago band named Tenki crammed in for this date only. So, with four sets to be heard, it was a little surprising when no one took the stage until close to 11:00 p.m. The main effect of this late start was to ensure that, by the time the Gardener began his set at nearly 2:00 a.m., everybody at Chicago's Empty Bottle (including his backup band) would be summarily sloshed. Everyone was still on their first round, however, when Charlene, the ultimate DIY band, plugged in their laptop and rocked out. The band owns their own studio and their own record label (SharkAttack!), and while they credit not having to worry about deadlines with a high level of songcraft, being self-released has surely cost them some attention. They are an entirely unassuming band on stage, probably fitting the literal label of "shoegazers" better than anyone else on this bill. The lead singer looks and sounds like a timid Michael Stipe, and his band plays music that sounds an awful lot like Ride. What made them more interesting, to me at least, was the band's real star: a small black laptop. Now, I've seen a lot of rock bands bring their iPods on stage, and until now the results, without exception, have been heinous. A laptop on stage usually means that some member of the band will do a long computer solo, running their music through all kinds of filters, playing with all kinds of blips and beeps. The result is always either horribly grating or horribly boring -- or both. Charlene, however, use the laptop as it was meant to be used: as an extra rhythm section. They weave their Ride-like atmospheric melodies around simple electronic beats to form a whole that somehow, inexplicably, turns out sounding wholly organic. If you're a Ride fanatic holding tickets to this tour, please, please, show up early. I don't want to use up too much space on the frenetic Chicago band Tenki, so suffice it to say that they play standard but top-notch indie rock, and add trumpet solos. They are having a record release show on October 9 at the Empty Bottle. If, like me, you think that there are not nearly enough trumpet solos on the scene these days, you should go. Robin Bennett, lead singer for Goldrush, is possibly the most affable frontman I've ever seen on stage. His nervous, jokey energy worked well with the drunken crowd, as he promised "a night to remember," profusely thanked everyone for coming, and was prodded into paying tribute to John Ritter. Live, Goldrush were able to sound both loud and dreamy, a tough combination to pull off, but were significantly marred by prominent and painfully bland lyrics. In fact, in an acoustic setting without the epic ebb and flow of the instrumentation, Goldrush songs would be pretty indistinguishable from say, the songs of John Mayer, whom Bennett, with his baby blue, open-collar Gap-ish shirt, fairly resembled. Just thank heaven that Goldrush's guitars can effectively create an atmosphere that easily overpowers all else. A similar criticism could be leveled at Mark Gardener as well. He took the stage with only an acoustic guitar, saying that Goldrush would join him "after their AA meeting." Gardener's solo material is passable, but songs titles like "See What You Get" and "To Get Me Through", two of Gardener's first songs, should give you an idea of how readily some of his work adheres to the "Take a Well-Worn Phrase and Make It a Hook" school of pop songwriting. Even the Ride-era song "From Time to Time" seemed to suffer a bit. The concert became markedly better, however, once Gardener declared that we'd heard "enough of that hippie stuff" and had Goldrush join him on stage. I never saw Ride live, so perhaps it's just that their layered sound fares better in a live setting, but it seemed like Goldrush, relegated to the status of backup band, made for a better Ride than the men themselves. "Dreams Burn Down" (from Ride's career-making 1990 debut, Nowhere) was particularly impressive, showing depths and heights I didn't know the song had. Even Gardener's solo work sounded much better, notably "Snow in Mexico", which sees him stretching out his songwriting chops. "Shoegazing" is a strange music term that exhibits both the British music press' obsession with style over substance, and their need to cram bands with disparate sounds into near-meaningless categories. In a sense, it's an admission that, since those bands had no obvious onstage style, the press didn't know quite know how to describe them. Ride, in particular, has always seemed more melodic, more lyrically straightforward, and more influenced by psychedelic music than a lot of the bands who shared the shoegazer label. Mark Gardener, contrasting his "hippie stuff" with his "Neil Young sort of thing," demonstrated just how much Ride always depended on atmosphere, and how the effects of the song lyrics and structure on their music were negligible. This is both a great advantage, as it conveys power and consistency, and a great limitation, as it inhibits growth. But, hey, whether it's Andy Bell or Robin Bennett on stage with Gardener, those Pumas are still fresh.

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