Oh, the memories. Thinking of my eight year-old self resigned to the spot next to my best friend, still continuing his perilous mission through the jungles of Contra. My lives already wasted in the span of minutes, I had mastered the art of dying in the first level. I had absolutely no skill when it came to finishing a game, so as I sat there amazed at the skill which my friend possessed, all I could do was take it all in. The glorious 8-bit artwork, the side-scrolling mayhem, the explosive theme music. Yes that's right, explosive was used to describe the robotic MIDI sound blasting from our TV. Little did I know that 14 years later I would stumble upon these memories once more, in the form of The Advantage.
If explosive was used back then to describe the clickity-clank of the NES soundtrack, then catastrophic might be one adjective in a long line trying to give substance to a rock band that has released the joy locked up in closeted geeks' hearts for the past decade.
The Advantage were formed in the late '90s after Hella guitarist Spencer Seim witnessed two guys performing NES songs at a talent show. A few years and a few band members later, Spencer and company became The Advantage, signed with 4 Rue Christine (Deerhoof, Xiu Xiu), and released a self-titled album covering the greats of Contra, Castlevania, and Marble Madness among others. They released their follow-up, Elf-Titled, in January 2006 and hit all the bases they missed with the first (Batman - "Stage 1," Metroid - "Kraid's Lair," and Ducktails - "Moon"). When I found out that they would be gracing my hometown with their presence, I had to make it out.
No one I mentioned the show to found the idea appealing in the least bit, so I made the trek down to Emo's like a lone child after running out of lives. The show was running late, with mediocre openers and lots of feedback. But by the time The Advantage took the stage the room was filled with enough skinny, bob-haired teens to fill a food court. When Seim's drums kicked in, I could feel the memories pounding in my chest. The dueling guitars did an excellent job matching the sound of the old MIDI sounds, and the bass jumped all over the place like Mario on mushrooms. The great thing about these guys is that they don't use synthesizers, its all talent. With two guitars, a bass and drums, they imitate the themes almost perfectly.
The speed and proficiency with which they play is not bad either. If you remember, or want to go back and check, those melodies on NES were pretty quick, and the technicality was, well, technical. Guitarists Robby Moncrieff and Ben Milner managed to blow through the entire set without one noticeable misstep and bassist Carson McWhirter supplied a nice fuzzy backdrop that allowed Seim to fill with maddening drums. I was reminded of when I saw Bloc Party recently marveling at their pace, but these guys matched that, and didn't break as much of a sweat in doing so.
There were a total of nine sections played. I say sections because each was a medley of minute long songs. And unless you didn't go outside as a child, or perhaps haven't since, it was pretty difficult to recognize a lot of what they were playing, other than a vague sense of nostalgia. Highlights for me included, obviously, an intensely heavy take on the Contra - "Boss Music," and a transition from the only non-NES theme (The Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)") to the Gospel of Geekdom - their take on the Super Mario Bros. medley. It was their own nerdy take on, Abbey Road's Side 2 medley, and I couldn't have been happier with it. After the last box was smashed and kill tallied, I headed home in an 8-bit daze, with a smile on my face.
Upon first review, it's difficult to see how far The Advantage could take this cover band into the future. After purchasing the self-titled album about a year and a half ago on a gimmicky impulse, I didn't think I'd ever hear from them again. I was gladly proved wrong. And now, after ending a long U.S. tour and then heading overseas, it might be safe to say that as long as there are geeks looking to rehash on old feelings, The Advantage will have a niche carved out waiting for them to pound out the nostalgia, which they will do with glee.
By Kyle Rother