live photos by Dorothy Hong
I had the extreme pleasure of talking to Kenny McKeeve of Camera Obscura and then seeing the band play at Bowery Ballroom on Friday night, July 7th. I would like to write a letter to the band to express my feelings.
Dear Camera Obscura,
The first time I heard one of your songs, I was in college. I heard "Knee Deep At The NPL" while sitting on a couch in a friend's basement. I know, if you do the math that makes me very young. But please, don't hold that against me. Ness, my buddy, told me immediately that I'd love you guys. He was right. Underachievers Please Try Harder became as important to me in college as Is This It, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and Astral Weeks. It was my winter anthem. Kenny, I know you said that you thought Underachievers was more "Autumnal," but hey, we're allowed to disagree, right?
So when Let's Get Out Of This Country was released, I was more than excited. You guys are the "bee's knees" as you say, and well, Tracyanne, I think you know that there are a few of us out there with a teeny tiny crush on you. I mean, let's face it, that voice is irresistible. The clever naivety of the music, your honesty and vulnerability, and those perfect melodies are hard to deny. I know that John didn't sing on the new album, and when I asked Kenny about what it was like recording this album without him, he said that it was a very natural progression. He didn't seem to think that much had been tampered with. Kenny, I think you're right. The album flows a lot better when Tracyanne does all the singing. But Kenny, I have to admit something. You were very hard to understand while we were talking. Your Scottish accent is pretty thick. I know we were both speaking English, but I'll be honest..... I had to rewind my tape player a lot.
Anyway, I was at your show at Bowery Ballroom the other night. It was nothing short of amazing. There is something about your band that puts me at ease. It makes me forget about paying the rent, or the dirty subway that I know I have to get onto after the show. You know what you're doing up on stage. You guys "get it." I would like to apologize for the crowd though. No one seemed to be moving, no one seemed to be appreciating what it was you were all doing on stage. And the frat boys behind me. Oh man, the frat boys. Those guys were awful. Who the shit let them in there? They were screaming the whole time. But, being the Camera Obscura fan I am, it's not surprising that I'm not big enough to shut them up. So I let them scream. I'm sorry. But I'm sure you understand the deal with Americans. Kenny told me that the "best part about being on tour is that we're away from home. The worst part is that we're away from home." I think you got a little of the worse part on Friday night. But hopefully you didn't hear them.
From the opening second of "Come Back Margaret" I knew this show was going to be special. Everything seemed in place. Everything seemed right. You know how you see a band whose album you can't stop listening to and something just didn't seem right? Well, this was the antithesis of that. The instruments were all at the perfect volume, Tracyanne's voice was right on, and if the Bowery Ballroom could actually smile, it would have shown all its teeth on Friday night.
Kenny, do you remember when we were talking about music that all of you listened to and you said that your brain needed to be "busted" sometimes? You told me that some of the books you read and music you listened to really busted your brain and that "you need to bust your brain once in a while." Well, when you first said that, I thought it was a little strange, but I took the weekend and now I know what the hell you're talking about now. You told me that you needed things to challenge you and you need to be taken aback sometimes. I know that when you were talking about this, you were talking about how much you enjoyed The Guillemots, but I think it applies to your band also. Tracyanne, you use the same chords in almost every song but each song still has it's own character, it's own sound, and you all bask in the "less is more" aesthetic. Some bands can't pull it off. You do. When people can pull that off, and pull it off as well as you, my brain gets busted.
I know that Kenny's favorite song to play is "Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken." But my favorite song that you guys played on Friday was the title track off your new album, "Let's Get Out Of This Country." It's upbeat and sad at the same time and the lyrics are simply the perfect words that could possibly come out of Tracyanne's mouth: "We'll find a cathedral so that you can convince me I am pretty." I dare anyone to hear those lines and not get weak at the knees (I assure you I'm not trying to hit on you Tracyanne. Hell, my girlfriend was standing next to me throughout the whole show). Just when I thought the song couldn't get any better, you started singing, "If you'll be my bodyguard, I can be your long last pal." I melted into a pile of skinny wanna-be hipster sludge right there at Bowery Ballroom. I spent my entire Fourth of July weekend in a car listening to Graceland and couldn't have loved that moment more.
Kenny, remember when I asked you about whether or not it was hard for Tracyanne to perform some of her songs on stage as the lyrics are so full of vulnerability and at times, heartbreak? You said "I can't really speak for her, but I don't think so. She writes those songs and we rehearse them enough and we are very comfortable with one another." Well, I know that you don't feel uncomfortable up on stage, Tracyanne, but you do a wonderful job of making the audience believe what you are saying. A lot of people can write lyrics that try to convey relationships and heartbreak in a, dare I say it, playful way. I think that you do it better than almost anyone out there. And please don't take offense to me calling the songs "playful," because you might not like that. But I mean that in the best possible way. I mean, who else can write lyrics like "I drowned my sorrows and slept around" and still have the audience clapping and smiling. And trust me, we're all paying attention to what you're saying. It's absolutely impossible not to.
Jeffrey N. Thrope
P.S. I wasn't mad at all that you only played two tunes from Underachievers. It seemed natural that you played mostly new material. I'm just upset that you didn't play "Book Written For Girls." Maybe next time. Thanks.