Minus the Bear, Rocky Votolato, Cave Singers, Past Lives, Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death – The Showbox

I had quite an adventure on adventure day.  I know today is no internet day, but I didn’t get home until 4AM and feel this need to make sure my review gets on here for some reason. I also barely capable of movement, so typing is about the limit of my physical activity until I really wake up.

Last night’s show was a benefit for the John Spalding Medical Fund and looked to be very beneficial. There was a healthy crowd and the bars were packed with folks. All of the bands did an excellent job in bringing out people to show support for the family of their friend, who happened to have been in some highly touted local bands. My band played with his band once, but I never really knew him. However, cancer has been a prevalent theme of a few of the people around me the last couple years and I’m aware of the loss that others suffer, so I did my best to donate as much as I could. It’s a bit hard to write a review of the bands tonight, since I know they were all there for some other reason than to just play music. It will be particularly hard to write bad reviews about the ones I didn’t like. Perhaps I shouldn’t. I’ll probably make up for this travesty by going to more John Spalding benefit shows: like these.

Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death
Most super groups just do the same thing they were doing in their old groups. Pinhead Gunpowder comes to mind. ToLSAtD does something completely different than Murder City Devils, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Suffering and the Hideous Theives and somebody called Modest Mouse. ToLSAtD does a lot of slowness and thickness, while Spencer Moody works on his best Alan Ginsberg impersonation over the noise of guitar scratching and bass droning and drums every once in a while and keyboard doing something and sometimes sax wailing away. ToLSAtD sorely reminds me of the early nineties penchant for long epic songs by art college bands who think they’re really deep and heavy. There’s some morose grumbling about how the world is terrible, but just enough punk to keep them from sounding like all the bands that kids who grew up listening to Depeche Mode and The Cure ended up liking when they got out of high school. But they are good people for being a part of the benefit show. They also spoke the most honestly about Mr. Spalding. And Spencer Moody’s encouragement of the crowd to start bands is a topic near to my heart (“This isn’t so hard! They aren’t moving their fingers that much!”). His stage antics were as entertaining as always, but I guess the music was just too epic for me.

Past Lives
If you didn’t know, this is really a night of super groups. The drummer, bassist and singer played in some band called The Blood Brothers. From my limited vantage point I mistook the drummer for his brother, who played in Waxwing and Gatsby’s American Dream. One guitarist was also in Sharks Keep Moving. The other guitarist was in Shoplifting. This particular supergroup sounds like Motley Crue if they had listened to a bunch of Sonic Youth records. The guitars (two of them, no bassist) are all crazy and noisy, the singer sounds just like Vince Neil three-quarters of the time and the drummer adequately fills the need for rhythmic direction. They’ve got a little bit of that garage rock sound that is popular these days thrown in as well. They got the kids moving around a bit, which was good. They’re pretty fun, but I think the particular trend they are riding on is petering out.

The Cave Singers
Awesome! So Awesome! Mountain Singers is more like it!! They touch on the roots of folks music and rebroadcast those roots though actual passion and heart. This is another supergroup, made up of members of Pretty Girls Make Graves (and Murder City Devils), Cobra High and Hint Hint. The Cave Singers prove the point I’ve been trying to make my whole life: you don’t need a dang orchestra to make awesome music. In fact, the best music is often the sparsest. It just takes passion. The Cave Singers have the same passion as those fantastic solo artists like Tom Waits in the same minimalist style. I think their sound works better live than recorded (at least from listening to their myspace songs), particularly because they were the only band that inspired hooting and hollering from the audience . The use of the melodica as both a melodic instrument and and a percussive instrument was genius. And their sad, plaintive songs are the kind of sad songs that actually are celebrations of life and all things that are meaningful and worthwhile. Great stuff!

Rocky Votolato (and friends)
Rocky brought two friends with him tonight to play drums and bass. They were all a bit unfamiliar (musically) with each other, it seemed. The band could use some tightening up, but the songs were still pretty good. Rocky debuted some new material (3 songs or so). All of the songs were very political. Poignant lyrics and clear cries for political action in a time when everybody believes that our savior has been elected president and all we have to do is sit around and watch him save us from evil. When, in reality, we can only save ourselves from evil. Rocky with bass and drums sounds a bit like Waxwing, which is pretty awesome. They also did a Clash cover (Spanish Bombs). I enjoyed singing along with all but the new songs, but the Rocky set seemed short, probably because of including the band and the necessity of practice. A solo show might have been a better choice, but I don’t think this was the crowd for it. A Waxwing reunion might have been the focusing point of this already star-studded evening… At any rate, for the last song (Suicide Medicine), Rocky played solo, but forgot to pick up the acoustic guitar. I was hoping he’d continue that way, reminding me of my favorite punk singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, but he stopped mid verse and switched to the acoustic. It was sort of representative of the rest of the set: good, but could be awesomer. Me and the guy next to me liked singing along, at least.

Minus the Bear
I first saw Minus the Bear at the old Paradox about 6 years ago. As you know, they are a supergroup also, formed of members of Botch, Sharks Keep Moving, State Route 522, and Kill Sadie, among others. I was super impressed with their time signatures and cool guitar sound and ridiculous musicianship. I liked “This is What I Know About Being Gigantic” a lot, but something has bothered me about Minus the Bear since I first heard them. I think I learned what that was at this show. The crowd was into their music. They were moving around and singing along and going a little crazy. I kept watching the stage and waiting for that feeling to hit me. Even when they played songs I knew well, there was nothing even closely resembling that need to rock out. Minus the Bear is getting old, of course. Dave Knudson’s attempt at the sideways hair all the cool kids are wearing is a little ridiculous and Jake Snider just looks like Jesus, a look that is considerably more believable. I mean, the songs are great: technical and catchy all at once. The message appears to be “have fun, don’t care about anything.” When everyone yelled along with “Don’t say no to pills. Ativan won’t kill you.” and then some guy behind me yelled out “Yeah, we dig it!” I realized what has bothered me about Minus the Bear since that first show: they don’t inspire me. They inspire the white baseball hat kids to feel good about their party lifestyle. They justify a meaningless and hollow life. They encourage sheep to yell along with their celebration of successfully replacing caring with cavorting. There’s a balance out there between my constant need for meaning, my ridiculous ability to get my heart all smashed up by giving it to all the wrong people, and the Minus the Bear theory of life: “screw it, let’s go drink.” I don’t know, maybe I’m just jealous. But they didn’t look like they were having fun up there anymore. It looked like a job. Plus, I liked them better when they didn’t have a keyboard. Actually, I liked Sharks Keep Moving way more.

In the end, all of these bands did a good thing whether or not I liked their music. They all raised money to help one of their own. I bought some merchandise and gladly paid the hefty door fee to do my little part of the same. I regret none of it.

I’m going to go write about my after-show adventures in another post. Tonight, I’m also going to try to go to a third show this week. I still can’t really see straight. Maybe this is what a hangover is like.

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