clap clap blog: we have moved

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

I Used To Think Life Was a Bitter Pill

Dear Art Brut,

Thank you for putting on such a good show at Southpaw last night. (Bryan has a report and a picture. Other people were there, but I am not going to link to them because you might think it was some kind of goddamn blogger party or something, but seriously, it was great.) Halfway through I was going to yell out something about New York crowds not moving, but then you said the line at the end of the second verse of "Modern Art," the one I can never understand, and you jumped into the crowd, and you looked kind of uncomfortable (here I am saying "you" but meaning "Eddie Argos, the lead singer," sorry about that), but you jumped around with us, and after that people started going crazy. New York people really just need one person dancing around in a prominent or loud way to get them moving (witness the one girl who came to one of our shows and started dancing and yelling at other people to dance, which totally worked; I wish we had gotten her phone number, I'd totally buy her drinks if she always showed up and did that) and it sure worked, because the rest of the show had all types of moving about. I mean, shit, some dude stage-dived, and when's the last time that happened at an indie-rock show? Matthew said (of a previous Art Brut show) it was like being 14 and at your first punk rock show, and Janine said (of this one) that they just made her happy. It is a hell of a live act you've got going there, and it proves that the songs aren't just riding on the funny lyrics.

But it was a different show than the last one, and I don't think it was just because it was at night in a Brooklyn club instead of during the day under a tent in Texas. (Nick is also doing some comparisons.) For instance, the way I was going to describe your SXSW show in the wrapup I never wrote would've gone something like this:

A rock band comes out and starts playing "Back in Black," which is never a good sign unless you're actually AC/DC, in which case it is like a chocolate icing waterfall. They launch into some rock number and it is not encouraging. And so a used-car salesman who has been drinking for some time staggers up on stage, grabs the mic, and starts making fun of the players, with sacastic comments like "Look at us, we formed a band!" But instead of kicking him off, they keep playing, and his comments seem to rile them into being better, and the whole thing starts to gel. Instead of mocking them, the used car salesman starts encouraging them, and by the end of the show, they've effected this miraculous transformation into an actual rock band.

But last night's show was different. For one thing, you actually seemed like a band: the singer and the blonde guitarist dude interacted, instead of going off on their separate paths, and when the singer started songs with "Ready, Art Brut?" it seemed like grinning camraderie rather than ironic command. What was most notable, though, was probably what you did at the end: you spoke to the crowd, and you told us all to start bands--threatened us, actually, saying you would be back in Brooklyn in five years and if we weren't all in bands you would be very annoyed. And as far as I can tell, you were being entirely sincere. And if you can ever tell if someone's being sincere, it's Art Brut, since we have so many glaring examples of you being at least somewhat sarcastic.

While I'm tempted to try and parse this in light of the whole Art Brut, um, project, that really seems pointless. When you sincerely command us to form bands, it's not furthering the ambiguity of your song "Formed a Band"--it's purely in service of the mood of the night, which, seemingly without trying, conjures the very basic capacity for joy that rock has. It's not retro, but it still works like "Tutti Fruiti" or "I Saw Her Standing There" or "Blitzkreig Bop" or "Kiss" or "Birdhouse in Your Soul." It does that trick that I think bands know they need to do but always have a hard time with: you don't want to make music that sounds like your favorite bands, you want to make music that makes other people feel like your favorite music makes you feel. I think the blurriness of that line has led to a lot of rock's creep away from that primacy, as sounds become gestures conjured not in a particular spirit but as a reference to the previous sound. (Or, uh, both.) It's different in every context, and for whatever reason, what Art Brut does is perfect for this context.

Miss Clap couldn't make it last night (I know you're crushed), but in discussing how she wished she could come, she said, "You haven't been this insistent about everyone seeing a band since the Scissor Sisters, and that worked out great." At the time, it made me leery--I like you, Art Brut, but I would not say you are the Scissor Sisters, maybe because what you're doing feels more basic than their masterful combo of genre-digging and melodic drive. But now that I think about it, it is the same, because it's the same feeling. Play "Take Your Momma Out" and "Good Weekend" and they induce roughly the same mental state. And that sure is saying something.

Anyway, thanks for the good times, and I am totally going to see you again in May.

Butterfly kisses,
clap clap blog