Louis XIV (San Diego) Pinstripes, eyeliner and songs about fucking. Lo-fi fuzzed guitars and the type of sexual honesty men are often faulted for not possessing, this NC-17 SoCal band of modern garage/'70s cock rock pushers are both deliberately trashy and provokingly seductive. Secondary front Brian Karscig in a pre-show tour bus interview disputed that their debut record, The Best Little Secrets are Kept, is entirely about sex. Although that may be the case, it's not the deep cuts selling the record, it's the first half, including single "Paper Doll" with its too-hot-for-TV video featuring mostly-naked Suicide Girls throughout. "Uhhh, well ... yeah." Point NUVO. This set was arguably the second place definition-of-a-rock-show ranking only below the Zero Boys, for its unabashed confidence and extravagant, rock star fare. That is, of course, until the second half of the set began ...
Love As Laughter (NYC) This trio of sub pop trucker culture vultures, failing to ignite the Alley Cat with any unforgettable fire, did lay out a spark of half-bluesy indie pop rock inoffensiveness. Perhaps it was the set list or that the bands they recall are just more potent, but it was like drawing a spoon to your lips thinking it was crème brûlée and finding out after a large anticipated mouthful that it was really vanilla yogurt.
Lapush (St. Louis) Usually a five-piece, but after the recent, abrupt departure of a couple of members, the combo took a crash course in programming the unmanned parts in order to keep on keepin' on. Result: Frontman Thom Donovan looks like Perry Farrell and sounds like Richard Ashcroft while fronting the lighter, less congested side of Muse.
Margot & the Nuclear So & So's (Indy) How many indie rockers does it take to fill a venue? The Indianapolis buzz band of the season played to jam-packed houses, featuring the addition of secondary percussionist and Pravada export Casey Tennis. The crowded houses dispersed with rave reviews about the genius of young Richard Edwards and company while suggesting that the answer to the above question is apparently eight. The way that Margot guitarist Andy Fry described the band when I interviewed him earlier this year is still my favorite, although the band sounds more modern than this implies. "In The Royal Tenenbaums' commentary, Wes Anderson said he set out to create a New York that never really existed, or only existed in his memory. M&NSSs, to me, is sort of our uninformed take on what Greenwich Village may have been like in the early to mid '60s. Personally, I think of old photos of people in scarves and tweed jackets, smoking. If I think they would like our arrangements, then it came out OK." There you have it, the official advent of "scarf rock."
Small Spaces (Grand Rapids, Mich.) Armed with only an unqualified recommendation, I made the opportunity to check out the band Small Spaces from Grand Rapids, Mich. What I stumbled onto was sweetly sincere pop purveyed from an ill-fitting, crowded stage. They sound like a less sinister AIR in the Virgin Suicides soundtrack-style. There's also an accordion, which seems to be making an impressive comeback.
The Vegetables (Bloomington, Ind.) Good, solid indie pop with a Roxy Music swagger and the near-theatrical style and vibrato of lead Dustin Wessel threatening to go Justin Hawkins (of the Darkness) on you at any moment. In addition to the regular lineup, for this outdoor show at Radio Radio, Patrick Bowers, formerly of Indy's Even Homer Nods and currently of New York City, joined in with the Vegetables on backing vocals and tambourine swinging. During the set, Wessel also dropped the bomb that the band as it is now only has two more shows before a name change and a lineup shakeup.
Mock Orange (Evansville, Ind.) Mock Orange has the sort of taut musicianship that really only comes after a decade of pursuit and sleeping on floors a couple hundred nights a year. At the pinnacle of their tenure right now, the guys are at a point where they are striking the best balance of technical proficiency as well as the ability to write strong, dimensional rock songs. The next couple are the telltale years; after getting too tight for their own good, we'll see if they take the road towards the prog scatter of Mars Volta or the hit it and quit it accessibility of Sparta.
Zero Boys Zero Boys This show was a class reunion, a homecoming and, most importantly, a lesson to everyone: This is what a proper rock show is like. This was unequivocally the best show of the Midwest Music Summit this year. With the entire area between the bar and the stage packed full and swarming in circles while supporting the constant stream of crowd surfers and stage divers (including Zero Boys frontman Paul Mahern), the room felt kinetically charged to ignite. The volatility was even present while I was taking pictures above the fray, perched on the front left side of the PA. What is amazing is that that intensity has remained ever since the release of the Zero Boys' quintessential album Vicious Circle in 1982. With Tufty, Cutsinger, Mahern and Ruhtenberg all in top form, you can imagine what it must have been like to be right there, in real time being soaked in the torrent of beer being hurled from every direction, ears pounding, fists pumping, body bruising in the ebb and flow of kids processing every moment with every muscle in their bodies.
French Kicks (NYC) Fusing the restraints of confident indifference with midtempo mod melodies. The presence and vibe of the songs evoke a lifeline all their own, but the languidly sexy, albeit somewhat pretentious, microphone body draping by French Kicks mouthpiece Nick Stumpf is the stuff that Morrissey-like mania is made of.
Robbers on High Street (NYC) The buoyant melodies of Supergrass crossed with the quirky, but inherent sophistication of Spoon. The Walkmen are also in there somewhere ... The No. 1 thing that stands out from their set was the translation of the songs from latest record Tree City from wax to the stage; unflawed yet twice as infectious. The record is sure to hold up as one of the year's best.
Cameron McGill (Chicago) McGill doesn't need a band. Somewhere in the arrangement of his singer/songwriter material to the full band setup, his songs trade in the edge of his interpretation for a smoother, sadly I say, adult contemporary vibe.
Hero Pattern (Sparta, N.J.) Over the last year, since MMS 2K4, there has been a noticeable (if not exponential) increase in rock amperage the band gives off on stage. The new songs feel more evolved and are executed with the kind of gusto given off by a band out of the identity confusion stage.
Dream Catcha (Australia) The ultimate band to soundtrack awesomely bad late '80s B films. I have to admit, their performance was intense at Rock Lobster. These guys came in all the way from Australia and seemed to be in oddly great spirits about the 22 hour flight. I also have to admit that I got extremely excited when they started playing their second song and I thought for sure it was Hedwig & the Angry Inch's "Tear Me Down."