Drive-By Truckers at the Bowery Ballroom, June 19, 2003
Who knew southern rock was so big with frat boys? At the Drive-By Truckers concert, there were more telltale white baseball hats and meatheads than one would expect. And there was that smell. As members of the crowd frequently squatted to light pipes and suck down a few mouthfuls of THC, I thought of college. But I couldn't remember too much. So I focused my attention on the band.
Brandishing three guitars and a soul-spanked rhythm section, the Drive-By Truckers brought the mutherfuckin' ruckus. Guitarists-singers Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and newbie Jason Isbell used their strings to wank out encomiums to the gods. The bumpkin-looking rhythm section bassist Earl Hicks and drummer Brad Morgan dutifully brought its own bottle to the table. The band sweat out songs from all their albums, but the majority came from 2001's genius achievement Southern Rock Opera and this year's Decoration Day. The latter is guaran-damn-teed to make the Top 10 of many 2003 lists, with finely crafted songs about family relations, the death of friends, rock-n-roll dreams, and advice on how to be a good man.
Onstage, Isbell and Hood got along like brothers, literally rubbing their noggins together and doubled over each other while whittling away at their guitars. Although Hood is the band's leader, the 24-year-old baby-faced Isbell contributed some of the most stupidly beautiful, bittersweet songs to the new album. My companion astutely noted that he looks a bit like Jack Osbourne, but way cuter. Cooley was a stiffer performer, perhaps because he was awaiting a phone call from his wife telling him she had their baby. Such is the life of a Drive-By Trucker.
With a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels accompanying them onstage, the DBT tore through a set that included "Heathens" (which was going to be the title of the new album until someone DAVID BOWIE beat them to it), "Ronnie and Neil," "Sink Hole," "Zip City," "Guitar Man Upstairs," "Hell No I Ain't Happy," "18 Wheels of Love," and "Outfit." Hood's sandy scrape of a voice recalled Don Henley while Cooley had a deeper, more formal Johnny Cash thing going on. DBT veered off into jam-band territory a few times; they'd overplay and get a bit Phish-y, but the crowd dug the indulgence.
And to think that this might not have happened without one man from New York City. As great southern gothic fables go, this one's a doozy. Hood's bag was stolen out of the band's van during one of their tours. With the bag went his notebooks that contained the lyrics and ideas for the new album. Miraculously, some guy found the notebooks on the street in New York City, hunted down Hood, and returned them at a Truckers' show three weeks later. Not surprisingly, DBT are avid supporters of this city. As he recounted the tale, Hood was half flabbergasted and half thrilled, and made it clear that if anyone talks shit about NYC, the response is, "Fuck yew, mutherfucker." Yippee ki-yay.
Barbez, Dresden Dolls, and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum at the Knitting Factory, June 30, 2003
| ||Dresden Dolls
A nifty little cabaret/vaudeville bill swung into town. I'm not one to turn down music that evokes the days when syphilis, absinthe, and bawdiness ruled. The variety of attendees enhanced the surreal evening: Art dorks, hippies who don't shower often enough, goths, meatheads in basketball jerseys, and plain folks packed the Knit.
Openers were Brooklyn-based Barbez. Featuring a theremin, marimba, and Palm Pilot (the laptop is sooo three years ago), this six-person troupe moved from minimalist gypsy tunes to bombastic eruptions. "The person who wrote these songs is someone who's lived in New York for 11, 12 years," explained singer Ksenia Vidyaykina, who wore a black frilly funeral dress in contrast with her bone-white skin and blonde hair. "The names of the songs are 'Pain,' 'Insignificance,' 'Fear of Commitment,' and so on." She sounded as enthused as Wednesday Adams at a birthday party. The morbid display was perversely delightful. With hands pressed piously together, she crooned in a deep dreary voice. Pamelia Kurstin, The (capital "T," trust me) theremin player used hand motions like NSync in their "Bye Bye Bye" video to eeek out sounds apropos to a classical violin. Late in the set, bassist Dan Coates whipped out his Palm Pilot and let loose what sounded like a choking dog.
I should've been wearing a powdered wig and smoking opium in a brothel.
The Dresden Dolls, the Boston duo of Amanda Palmer (piano/vocals) and Brian Viglione (drums), refer to their performance as "brechtian punk cabaret." I refer to it as "the Smashing Pumpkins' 'Tonight, Tonight' video." Their faces were covered in white makeup. Viglione wore a fedora and suit, and the Dresden Dolls projected an image of unsettling yet intriguing vespertine elements. Occasionally accompanied by an upright bass and guitar, the duo's wily music took over like a full orchestra. Viglione's drumming was ace he made those things dance. Highly dramatic and darkly pretty, Palmer's voice is a dead wringer for Tori Amos's. She slinked from whispers to whoops, and songs climaxed like Broadway tunes.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum took forever and a day to set up. But you can't really blame them because one of their instruments is a monstrosity some kind of drum kit concocted of things that look like beer cans and giant mousetraps. SGM make some of their instruments, and I'd bet this was one of them. Damn thing looked like it should've been impounded. Anyway, when the band finally took the stage, it was a menagerie of characters. It was hard to see anything save for a flood of red light and the outlines of bodies. As the light got stronger, you could see the five members were wearing animal masks. Among them, a goat, donkey, and pig. It was like Slipknot at the zoo. I immediately thought of the movie Legend starring Tom Cruise. SGM looked like they crawled out of some fucked-up enchanted forest full of evil gnomes and hobbits. Bassist Dan Rathbun sported three mohawks and a skirt. Singer/guitarist Nils Frykdahl had a red hood and some kind of jester costume.
Drummers Moe Staiano and Frank Gau were shirtless, and violinist/singer Carla Kihlstedt had stubby pigtails. Musically, they sound like they looked. It was death metal meets the Crash Test Dummies. Like Disturbed's David Draiman, Frykdahl's deep voice sputtered above a nonsensical hammering of sludgy tones and improv funk. The crowd clearly loved the getups, got a few laughs out of the Sleepytime's showmanship, and dutifully banged their heads to the beat.
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