WHEN? 10:30 pm, April 20th, 2007.
HOW MUCH? $15 – Sold out way before!
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the El to North/Clybourn. Get on bus 72, get off at Damon. Takes about 45 minutes from the Davis stop.
The Jai Alai Savant got on stage at about 10:30, dressed entirely in white. The lead singer/guitarist, Ralph Darden, is a heavy-set black man with a wild beard and erratic Afro and the bass player, Dan Nash Snyder, is a tall, scrawny white man with a shaved head. The visual contrast is a good gimmick. Like The Big Sleep, The Jai Alai Savant brought their own floorlights. When the lights kicked on, their matching uniforms presented an impressive front.
The music was funky and intense, with a lot of intricate, throbbing basslines that did not let up. Darden’s vocals were difficult to hear, but they were delivered with plenty of soul, which he matched with angular effect-heavy guitars with a lot of reverb. The drummer, Michael Bravine, strikes me as the gutsiest percussionist I’ve ever seen live. He was sweating so much and he looked so intense that I really appreciated what he was putting into the performance.
The Jai Alai Savant had a pretty unique mix of sounds. Darden’s guitar was sharp and spastic, matched by plenty of hip-wiggling and proper rock-ecstasy faces. Snyder’s funky bass lines drifted with Darden into the occasional back-beat heavy rocksteady/ska beat, especially on one song about Darden’s unrequited love for Scarlett Johansson. The band did a couple of songs, including a really sweet Trenchmouth cover, featuring a guy on a Moog synthesizer and this weird keyboard thing you blow into, as well as a backup singer who wore a track jacket and oversized sunglasses and showed off a bunch of incredibly tight dance moves. The rhythm section really worked together behind the vocals and the guitar, and the band was a lot of fun to watch on stage. They’re Chicago locals now, transplanted from Philly, so after they get done with their international touring next month, you should be able to see them around – they’re worth it! If they work on their stage banter a little bit and write some songs more like that hell of boss Trenchmouth cover, I bet they’ll go really far.
After they broke down the stage, Art Brut came on. Listening to the records, I didn’t realize there were so many people in Art Brut. Two guitarists, a bass player, vocalist Eddie Argos, and a drummer who stood up the entire concert (the dude must have just been too busy rockin’ to sit down, y’know?). The two guitarists were really great on stage and looked like they were having an amazing time. Art Brut can play the hell out of their instruments – plenty of their songs have hooks you could catch whales with, and the rhythm section kept up. But the fact is, Art Brut is about the lead singer, Eddie Argos.
Art Brut might be any other indie rock band mimicking Wire or the Fall if it weren’t for the snarky lyrics and deadpan delivery of the lead singer. Argos likes to run his mouth about how Art Brut is just like any other band without a trace of irony, but obviously with songs about hating the Velvet Underground, missing your 6th grade sweetheart, erectile dysfunction (albeit masked by some witty metaphors), and starting a rock band, Art Brut isn’t just any other band. There’s a humor and wit that other bands just don’t have. That makes it hard for some people to take Art Brut seriously, but behind all the witticisms there’s a healthy dose of the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.
I didn’t really understand Art Brut until I saw Eddie Argos in action. The dude is obviously having the time of his life. He frequently ad-libs the lyrics to his songs just slightly, and he kept coming to the lip of the stage and reaching out to the audience. Between every song he addressed the crowd, told them how much he wished he was from Chicago because it’s great being a hometown band, and gave brief introductions to each song. Just a little too pudgy and not quite good looking enough to be a hip rock ‘n’ roll star, Argos pulls it off anyway. If he were just standing up there being droll, maybe I would have listened to the critics. At one point Argos changed one of the lines from a song just slightly and said, “I am having the most fun.” Early on in the concert, he waded out into the crowd and went all the way around the Subterranean, letting the crowd yell along to the lyrics of the song until he ran back on stage and yelled out the last line triumphantly.
During “Emily Kane,” he yelled out to the audience, “STOP STOP STOP!” and went off on a brief tirade about people getting back together with their exes or not depending on what he said, and then he concluded that everyone was stupid for listening to them just for being in a rock band. Argos gave a clear acknowledgment that Art Brut was just a rock ‘n’ roll band full of a bunch of drunk and partied out people who didn’t know anything and shouldn’t be listened to. That’s a pretty good way of looking at Art Brut as a whole.
Whether or not Art Brut should be taken seriously from a lyrical standpoint might be unclear, but after seeing their show on Friday, I don’t know how anybody could fail to take them seriously as a rock band. The crowd was absolutely raucous, especially two drunk idiots directly next to me who kept yelling out the wrong names of the songs and shoving their way up to the stage. There was also a guy who was so devoted to Art Brut that he made them a paper airplane and got everyone to sign it before throwing it on stage. I thought he was going to cry when none of the bandmembers saw it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many people singing along to a band before, even when the lead singer was on stage. The crowd was having as much fun as the band, which is to say, the most fun.