Thursday, Dec. 17
On Friday night a lineup of bands featuring local legends Brando, Chicago-based Soft Speaker, and Indy-based Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine turned up for a concert in honor of Radio Radio bouncer and door guy Big Chuck, something that’s become an annual event albeit with different bands. Indy-based power-pop group Pravada were originally on the bill but cancelled earlier in the week. As one member of Brando said during their closing song: “Thanks to Pravada for not announcing that they weren’t playing; that helped.”
There may have been people who turned out solely see Pravada and were therefore disappointed, but the existing lineup seemed to entertain just fine without them. Brando seemed to have drawn the biggest crowd, which makes sense as they have a 20-year history of recording and performing in central Indiana (after forming in Bloomington in 1991).
Brando are one of those area bands I’ve heard a lot about since I arrived on the scene but never managed to see live. According to several accounts, their live performances over the years have been hit or miss. After seeing exactly one Brando show I can’t say I disagree with that assessment. Their stage presence was so casual as to be patently disorganized. It was more like a musician’s convention than a stage performance; audience members walked up and onto the stage, passing PBRs to members of the band, who seemed to drift about like children with ADD, stooping every other moment to adjust cables or pedals, etc. But it’s also not like they’re not aware of this; the lead singer apologized several times for what a “horrible mess” this song or that song was.
But what about the actual music? Let’s start with the fact that Jorma Whittaker jumped up on stage to help them sing their second song. At that precise moment they started to sound like Marmoset, but not just because of Whittaker’s voice. The two bands share an affinity for the lo-fi alternative sound; they have a lot of subdued, repetitive bass lines punctuated by clear resonating guitar and/or keyboard notes, and overlaid by emotionally twisted, often totally inscrutable lyrics. It’s a sound that one concert-goer described as an “original indie” sound, practiced to perfection by bands like Pavement and Built to Spill.
You have to listen carefully, but if you do, every once in a while you’re able to isolate a really fascinating line here or there: “All my brothers and sisters know/keep ten pounds of weight connected to your arm,” or “You’re American, you’re Canadian/you’re the North American [something]/Keeps you on your toes…I’m the same over and over again.” Lines like those make you want to keep paying attention and make it worthwhile to endure the sort of cat-herding nature of a Brando live performance.
- Soft Speaker
Just before them was Chicago-based Soft Speaker. These guys were really a surprise. Although they were plagued by intermittent sound troubles caused by—as it turned out—a worn-out guitar cord, they played a dynamite set when they were firing on all pistons. They have two extremely talented lead guitarists who flank a female bass player (a rare breed) and occasionally jump on the synth to create an '80s new wave sound. Singer Nick Rocchio’s voice sometimes takes on a Morrissey quality to it and bassist Blair Douglass said her earliest influences were R.E.M., The Police and the Smiths. Yet, they manage to put a new and heavier spin on that '80s sound, even adding a psychedelic funk dimension which tends to show up more on their recorded work. Their LP I'll Tend Your Garden has already melted into my car's CD player from overuse.
Before Soft Speaker were Indy-based Dr. Goldfoot & The Bikini Machine (which is the name of a 1965 low-budget film by Norman Taurog, but I digress…), a band who so obviously came of musical age in the 1990s, for their sound just oozes the quasi-depressed chordage and rhythms of grunge/alternative. Seems like you can’t go anywhere these days without seeing a live act that doesn’t have some of the “alternative” sound. In fact, the term seems to be kind of a catchall. However, these guys sound as if they’ve stepped off a time machine from a day in the not so distant past of the mid-90s.