The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players at Galapagos, January 21, 2003
They were the first unsigned act ever to play "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." They're heading to the 2003 South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. Their shows are always packed with adoring fans. Their star member is nine-year-old drummer, Rachel. The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players are the latest hot, ubiquitous trio in New York City. And they're so much cooler than the frickin' Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
The New-York-by-way-of-Seattle Trachtenburg family is mom (Tina Pina), pop (Jason), and Rachel. Tina resembles designer Betsy Johnson with a volcano of red hair on top of her head; Jason's a version of geeky actor Rick Moranis; and if Rachel were any more awesome banging away on her green drum kit, she'd be a Fraggle. In an attempt to forever alter the world of entertainment, the trio purchases old slides from estate closings, writes songs about the strangers in the pictures, and performs them in front of a screen displaying the slides. It's "a pop rock exposé." Tina operates the slide projector and the live music is provided by Jason (keyboards/guitar) and Rachel, who both share vocal duties.
Standing in the stifling performance space at Galapagos in Brooklyn, I couldn't see a single hair on any of the Trachtenburgs. I managed to get a semi-obstructed view of the slides, but my evening was far from wasted thanks to the sheer enthusiasm of the Slideshow Players. Rachel and Jason's ebullient voices cracked and leapt as if they both inhaled a tank of helium before each number. Most of the music sounded like it was being blared out of Willy Wonka's carousel. Needless to say, the audience was hanging on every lyric, slide, and laughing themselves sweaty. "Mountain Trip to Japan, 1959" included a shot of a public execution and "Look At Me" featured pictures of cheeky 1950s suburbanites. From posed vacation shots to candid moments borrowed from the lives of strangers, the Trachtenburgs managed to put them all in context. It was as hilarious as it was clever
one of those experiences where your face actually hurt afterwards from smiling so much. Granted, if the
drummer wasn't a shining, adorable nine year old, this show wouldn't be half as masterful.
Which brings me to something I've been dwelling on. If a teenage rite of passage goes through a stage marked by your parents' hatred of the music you love and vice versa, what, pray tell, is Rachel supposed to do? Her music is her parents' music. So, what happens if she decides her parents' music is lame? What happens when Rachel grows up and wants to rock like the Lunachicks and L7, blow up her amp, and all that good stuff? Does the future of the Slideshow Players hang in Rachel's looming puberty? Get yourself to a Trachtenburg slideshow while you can.
Tiger Mountain at Arlene's Grocery, February 3, 2003
The local quartet Tiger Mountain is a mishmash of ex-members from other NYC bands: singers/guitarists Mike Jackson (!) and Tyler Lenane (ex-Girltoucher), bassist Dean Rispler (ex-Murphy's Law, ex-Brought Low), and drummer Aaron Conte (ex-Nada Surf). On the first night of their February residency at Arlene's Grocery, the band played a decidedly svelte brand of downtown rock 'n' roll. Their debut album Analog Heads Gone French was the platter du jour. Cocksure, flirty riffing with "ooh-oooh" harmonizing by four guys that clean up nice enough for you to take them home to meet your parents. Course, underneath that charm probably lies a couple of horndogs who grow pot in their closets. Smells like the Replacements to me.
Arlene's was well attended for a freezing Wednesday night, and feet were tapping at the foot of this mountain. With classic rock slowly on the rise, this band is radio ready; each song had a definitive hook rooted in psych-rock, alt-country, or full-on guitar rock a la the Who. The up-tempo music was free of angst or forced cool. The high-then-gruff vocals made a comparison to Bon Jovi unavoidable. At times Mike Jackson (!!) wrestled with his tongue and sounded like Royston Langston, best known as the lead signer of Spacehog, best known for the single "In the Meantime," best known for the intro of "Ooohhooohooohhooohooh." The band's most memorable moment came with their last song that wasn't as streamlined as the rest of their set. They tossed some grit into the mix and it made a world of difference.
Clustered in the center of the stage, Jackson, Lenane, and Rispler assumed the position with guitar necks pointed skyward doing their best gratuitous rock-star poses. Not yet, guys, but soon enough.
Blood Brothers at the Knitting Factory, February 1, 2003
You know something, I fucking hate the British music press. They're the worst judges of merit and the stuff they pull out of their arses makes my tits itch. For reals. If hype were a disease, the British music press would be in the midst of a plague.
I was all set to write up the Blood Brothers show, when I received an e-mail informing me that the UK's music authority, NME, coined the term "screamo" to identify a new crop of bands, who many believe are destined to become the hot new sound. And the lucky Blood Brothers are at the center of the screamo phenomenon. "Screamo"? I could give a salty fuck what the hot new sound for 2003 will be. (Remember a couple of years ago when ska was, like, popular and everyone was so totally into it? Yeah, that lasted.) I'm just rolling my eyes at the ingenious word they chose to coin the style. Screamo. It's a hundred times goofier than Emo. Start a countdown for the first clever journalist to use the word "scr-emo" to describe a band. I'm itchy. On to the Blood Brothers.
As basic as I can put it, the Blood Brothers are a band with two guys who scream as hard as their body permits. Think of bands such as Mindless Self Indulgence, American Nightmare, and Glassjaw. Singers Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney, guitarist Cody Votolato, bassist Morgan Henderson, and drummer Mark Gajadhar are the skinniest bunch of mofos I've seen on a stage in ages. Their combined weight might equal one of their amps. The five boys from Seattle are about ready to release their third album Burn, Piano Island, Burn and were recently featured in the Next Big Thing issue of Spin magazine. They admitted to being kinda "faggy" (their word, not mine) and I'll testify to that. Whitney is a bit femme in a fashionable, commanding, Karen O type of way. His movements made me think of Molly Ringwald dancing at the prom in those '80s movies. The head shakes, the weight shifts from side to side, all of that. "I am a sissy. That was never in question,"
said Blilie after a fan chided him when he
complained he was ill. And when the band played, it was akin to watching a tiny animal puff up to appear bigger in the face of a predator.
Just because the tousled-hair Blood Brothers are slender ruffians in tight T-shirts does not mean they're for the faint of heart. Blilie and Whitney screamed with more ferocity than a yeast infection in the summertime.
Their cover of Queen's "Under Pressure" was positively dismantling.
Blilie wailed so hard he was doubled over with one arm clutching his stomach, presumably to prevent his bowels from separating. When his arm wasn't across his stomach, it was behind his back, hand clutching his ass, presumably to prevent... you get the idea. Whitney, who resembles Craig Nichols of the Vines, pointed his hand in the air, clapped to the beat, and gouged out the crowd's eyes with his mid-air body spasms. The noise teemed down like acid rain. It was purely anarchist cacophony with indecipherable lyrics spewed from the navel.
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