Dance, dance. Revolution?
With Friday night a little slow on the live music front, The Spin found a perfect opportunity to check out something a little different happening over on Cannery Row. Word on the street was, the masterminds behind The 5 Spot's weekly Monday night dance party phenomenon "Keep on Move'n" were attempting the same on a slightly larger scale at Mercy Lounge.
We showed up around 11 p.m. thinking we'd given things plenty of time to start simmering, but instead found a rather underwhelming crowd. While there were plenty in attendance to fill out the event's usual home at The 5 Spot, Mercy's much bigger room displaced the audience and diluted the energy. A small but spirited party of a dozen or less maintained activity on the dance floor. Fortunately, things were soon about to change. It took an appearance by Heath Haynes and the Hi-Dollars at midnight to condense the mass before the stage and make use of its full potential. Direct from Lower Broad, the band jaunted through a revved-up collection of jukebox standards that kicked everyone up a few notches into maximum overdrive. The fire burned out a little during the course of their set, as the crowd waning a bit in density, but those who remained persevered with pure energy.
Once the Hi-Dollars were done, Jacob Jones and Reno Bo resumed their positions behind the DJ booth to pump out another steady stream of rock 'n' soul faves. The sock-hopping, rug-cutting masses wasted no time making their way back to the dance floor where, in spite of the bitter wind outside, they were soaking each other with sweat almost instantly. Though we admittedly had our doubts just over an hour before, it was official: The boys had indeed managed to match the intensity of their weekly jam in Five Points in the much bigger Mercy Lounge. We also couldn't help but notice, despite the high frequency of dance parties these days, it'd been some time since we'd witnessed one of this magnitude. These events have traditionally been relegated almost exclusively to a futuristic, technotronic backdrop, but could it be these vintage relics have, at least for now, pulled the rug from underneath machine-made music and replaced it as the official dance party soundtrack of '09?
Per usual, we rolled up on Exit/In Saturday night just in time to catch the last amp-standing, riotous garage-punk moment of the openers, New Jersey five-piece Titus Andronicus. It was too bad, because they sounded like a pretty good time (though later someone told us they weren't that good). The venue was about half full, and it was the usual snakepit. Only this snakepit was crawling with dudes in hoodies with very sensitive faces. Well, except for the one guy wearing the 1987 Cult Electric World Tour T-shirt. We wanted to get that guy a beer. An American beer.
So, we used the time to chat with the Los Campesinos! merch girl, Kelly, who kindly gave us three pieces of information: 1.) This was the band's first time in Nashville but their third time in the States. 2.) The in-store earlier in the day at Grimey's had been a terrific success, with people waiting out the door. 3.) The band is actually English, not Welsh. They simply met in Wales at Cardiff University, and the chick with the red hair in the band is, like, Russian or something.
Armed with this new knowledge, we proceeded to take up our usual back-center-of-the-venue position. Had they been Welsh, we surely would have wanted to inspect them more closely. But with English dudes, we already know which end of an ace is up.
It was a brisk, upbeat show. They kicked off with "Ways to Make It Through the Wall" off the new album We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, and kept the rest of the under-an-hour set at the same pace with all of their bounciest, most deeply unhappy but petulantly giddy material.
Save for a few bouncing fans, the rest were head-nodders—captive, receptive, but clearly unfamiliar with the material. Being British, the band were exceedingly polite and witty.
"We're honored to be here among such luminaries," lead singer Gareth said, pointing to the Exit/In wall of fame. "But we're disappointed that it was Cracker that played here and not Uncle Kracker. That's been confusing us for a bit."
They traipsed through the slap-happy "My Year in Lists," which got a few more familiar ears pricked up, but it wasn't until they played the MySpace/blog sensation "Me! You! Dancing!" that the crowd went appropriately wild to a situation where a fairly reserved but polite British band plays their "hit." It was them! And us! And kinda dancing! Very cool, very cool.
They played the title track off Beautiful, Doomed and nailed the shouty explosive end line, "I hope my heart goes first!", which got the band riled up for their encore. Fun factoid: That encore included the drummer grabbing a roll of toilet paper and chucking it into the audience. And it did involve someone in the audience chucking it back at said drummer, who happened to be shirtless in the British sense—you know, inoffensively, considerately shirtless. And talk about considerate—those crazy kids had us back in our cars by 11:45 p.m.
The impossibly catchy chorus to The Virgins' very first song Monday night declared, "Teen lovers don't wait / Vacation is over." Or something like that. As best we could decipher the song seemed to be the band's mandate for teenage doin' it, so clearly these guys aren't the virgins they advertise themselves to be. Must be that irony stuff we've been hearing so much about.
Debauchery was the running theme of the set: cocaine brunches, K-holes, more sex—all set to a crisp and clean new-wave backdrop. For all that danger and excess, you've gotta pull off the child-proof cap to get to it. That's maybe why new wave never really interested us as much as first-wave punk—it's almost falsely advertised. Sure, first wave and post-punk can easily be just as contrived, but at least with those styles there's a sense that it isn't for everybody.
That said, The Virgins have obviously done their homework. The Duran Duran-styled keyboards of their recordings were absent, so the band's Talking Heads influence was much closer to the surface with funky, syncopated basslines and dry guitars knifing through downbeat. Wah guitar popped up more than a couple of times, and while our knee-jerk reaction is to curl into a ball and hide under a table when that happens, it was somehow tastefully done. Again, Talking Heads influence. Sometimes the singer sounded a bit like Elvis Costello, so they've got the familiarity thing going for them, too.
Since this was all happening at 3rd & Lindsley, the whole thing resembled a showcase rather than a rock show. The crowd, while enthusiastic, largely remained seated, making the performance seemed more like a demonstration. The Killers, Black Kids, Editors, The Bravery, Kings of Leon—the market is already glutted with this kind of sound, so The Virgins have got their work cut out for them to stand above the fray. We'd say they're probably less easily dismissed than any of those other bands, but The Virgins seem to be riding high on the strength of three choruses alone, the best of which was the first song of the set. The band may not be actual virgins, but they do climax early.
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