One of the best live bands in the world puts out its first live album, and as one would expect, it turned out pretty great.
Many a time have I heard ye olde tales of the creature known as Les Savy Fav, a strange beast known to spit skittles into the mouths of its prey and get all nude while rocking out dance-punk style. Despite the growing legend, I have yet to encounter the Fav in its natural habitat of the stage show, though their studio work has been a source of enjoyment since those crazy, hazy days of high school. Fortunately, French Kiss Records has issued a digital-only live album recorded during their New Year's performance at New York’s Bowery Ballroom entitled After the Balls Drop (get it?). This is a whole bucket of fun, and while it may not compete with great live albums of the past, it could be the best single shot of Les Savy Fav out there.
What you get here is an exact document of the show from start to finish; you may find yourself uninterested in the seven minutes of cheering before the encore, but after their set you may want to join in the chant of “LES! SAVY! FAV!” The band rips through highlights from last year’s Let’s Stay Friends and the 7-inch compilation Inches with energy that could only be fueled by the turning of the calendar year. Tunes like “Patty Lee” and “What Would Wolves Do” hit harder than their recorded counterparts, the production on Friends being a bit glossier than in the past. Set-closer “Rome (Written Upside Down)”, here listed as “Tim Speech”, gets the extended jam treatment and demonstrates a Fugazi-like chemistry between the musicians.
Those with instruments on stage act as the John Entwistle to frontman Tim Harrington’s other three guys from the Who. The stage banter is continuously hilarious, Harrinton being a font of non-sequiturs and yelps. It's pointless to quote out of the context of the show, but suffice it to say, he celebrates what he claims to be the new millennium by counting from 1 up to 10. This kind of abandon is rare in indie-rock these days, and it is clearly infectious with the crowd, who participate in his call and responses at the drop of a hat (or some other costume piece the bald and bearded character may have been wearing.)
The encore of the evening is comprised entirely of covers, and damn good ones at that. As I didn’t really glance at the set-list before listening, each one caught me off guard and gave me that little rush of recognition. They knock the Pixies’ “Debaser” right out of the park, revealing one of their primary influences while keeping up with the original in just about every way (no one in the band can really pull off a Kim Deal impression). The band flirts with poignancy with a cover of Arthur Lee’s “Everybody’s Gotta Live”, a simple singalong that pretty much encapsulates the philosophy of the band: “Everybody's gotta live / And everybody's gonna die / Everybody's gonna have a good time / I think you know the reason why”.
Inches may be the best introduction to Les Savy Fav, as it's a collection of singles spanning the history of the band. However, it doesn’t really express the raw power they are capable of live, nor does it give Tim Harrington a chance to unleash the Country Bear Jamboree inside of himself. There has always seemed to be a chasm between the live and studio versions of the band, making this release entirely called for. After the Balls Drop may be my new Les Savy Fav record of choice: it’s got almost all of my favorite songs, and it puts a smile on my face every time. You can’t really ask more of a live album.