Last night I went to a talent show. Only it didn't take place at a high school - it was at NYU's E&L Auditorium. And as opposed to a tame showcase of baton-twirlers and dance troupes, college students and fans came together to bounce, crowd-surf, laugh and groove to I Heart Comix's power pair Matt and Kim and French Kiss Records' rockers The Big Sleep and Les Savy Fav.
As the predominantly college hipster crowd filed through the auditorium doors and headed for the stage, Matt and Kim (of Matt and Kim) took their spots - Kim behind her drum set and Matt behind his keyboard and microphone. Once situated, a high-energy, punk rock hoedown commenced, complete with a mosh pit and a particular music journalist shakin' and bakin' to Kim's drum beats (F.Y.I. she smiles bigger than ever while beating the living shit out of her kit; it's awesome to watch) and Matt's '80s hair band enthusiasm - complimented by nerd-rock vocals and keyboarding reminiscent of The Rentals and Nerf Herder. I even detected a hint of Reggie and the Full Effect-ish emo flavor in the ballad "Silver Tiles." Let it be known: This Brooklyn duo knows how to get a party started, and there was stage-diving to prove it.
Next up was the mostly instrumental Brooklyn trio, The Big Sleep, comprised of Sonya Balchandani (bass/keys/occasional vocals), Danny Barria (guitar/keys) and Gabe Rhodes (drums). The three-piece immediately sparked my attention as they took the stage in total darkness. On the first note of their first song, a large multi-bulb "The Big Sleep" sign quickly became the only source of light on stage - adding an intimate, 1920s Vaudeville feel to the group's seductive guitar sequences, undulating tempos and whimsical, conscious-meets-unconscious bedroom rock experience.
Last, but certainly not least, Providence/New York's Les Savy Fav graced E&L with a presence bigger than the fake nose lead singer Tim Harrington sported when he walked on stage dressed as an archaeological excavator - prepared to teach the student-filled audience a lecture in Egyptology 101. I'm still not sure how the fake nose factored into his costume, but I'm certain that random humor is crucial to their live act. Harrington's Leigh Bowery-esque love for dress-up, comedic rants between songs and ability to command his audience was unlike anything I've ever seen at a live show. In fact, his larger-than-life stage antics in some ways contrasted the band's cleverly-worded lyrics, grouchy-yet-stylized guitar melodies and unpredictable dabbling in different musical genres - ranging from indie grunge lords Archers Of Loaf to experimental giants Sonic Youth to '70s sass machines The Cars.
Before the show, I had the pleasure of chatting with Les Savy Fav's guitarist Seth Jabour, drummer Harrison Haynes and bassist/French Kiss Records' founder Syd Butler - everyone but the band's theatrical frontman, who I assumed hadn't arrived to NYU just yet.
First impression of the three outta four Favs: well-spoken Rhode Island School of Design graduates/artists (Haynes, Jabour and Harrington also paint, illustrate and make textiles, respectively)/rock veterans who stay true to the music that's in their hearts and mental repertoires - dismissing any pressure, want or need to steer their sound in a particular direction.
"We've always felt a kinship with Pixies. They seem like a band who was never conscious of what they were doing or what movement they were participating in. They were just making intuitive music," Haynes commented.
Butler: "So many bands today are trying to copy something really specific. They will settle instead of writing something that's really inspiring to them. That's why I like The Big Sleep so much. They do whatever the fuck they want. Not trying to fit a mold, so to speak."
I also posed the question that I'm sure others familiar with the band have asked themselves: What's in the seemingly French name Les Savy Fav?
Butler: "French culture is so absurd to me. They have a real sense for the aesthetic and yet it's so absurd because that's what they seem to care about the most."
"It's made up," said Haynes. "Something that has a familiarity, but past the familiarity does not have any meaning."
Butler added: "Like Jawbreaker and other bands (who also formed in the mid-'90s). The names were so literal."
Jabour: "Also sounded kind of snub. Kind of snobby and sexy. Like, what the fuck? Les Savy Fav!"
Cheers to that, LSF!
The common thread shared by all three acts last night: Everybody seemed to play what they feel. It was such an honest, whole-hearted display of musical talent that the audience couldn't help but admire the bands' obvious passion for the sounds they create. That alone made me want to rock out. The fact that I adored the music I heard was a delicious, cake icing added bonus.
by Jamie Lee