Sunday, September 2, 2007

There seems to be at least a few other Velvet Underground nostalgia bands around, one new band called The Crocodiles is also playing an upcoming show at The Bowery Ballroom. The Bowery Ballroom is one of NYC’s many strange and beautiful venues. There is a bar downstairs and the concert hall is upstairs, the clientèle are low key rocker types who wear a lot of black. I missed the first band The Vandelles, but got there in time for The Morning After Girls. The Morning After Girls put on a powerful performance, projecting a very genuine energy, the band obviously cared a lot about their live performance. The lead singer was incredibly engaged in his music and seemed to be delivering his music from his own private world. The Warlocks took the stage around 11:30 and did not miss a single change or beat. Their sound was raw, and despite all impulses to say otherwise, unpretentious. The singing was high energy, with tactful use of back up harmonizing. The group had solid vocals, creating a sound that was very clean and exact, at times giving it a studio mastered effect. The solo’s were experimental and unpredictable, at one point I felt like one of the guitarists was channeling John Cale, (the violinist for The Velvet Underground) with distorted and ambient, screeching effects. Three guitarists, a bass player, and a keyboard are usually hard to keep so perfectly in sync. The backstage area consisted of a room up a narrow stair case with a case of PBR laying on the floor across from a bottle of Makers Mark on the table. The art school combo. I asked the band about the choice of a name and it did not seem like too big of a deal for them, it seemed to simply be inspired by The Velvet Underground. I came to the show wondering if the band had known about The Grateful Dead connection but realized how narrow my taste in music had become. I had been overtaken by Phish/Dead mania and completely forgot about my childhood hero Lou Reed. The Warlock's lead singer, Bobby Hecksher is a soft spoken, androgynous character who seemed to be somewhat anxious, possibly due to the fact that he was one of the only one not drunk, in a room full of intoxicated people. As he came out from behind his dark sunglasses I asked him if he had ever met Lou Reed; he said it would probably have been “a weird conversation.” The Warlocks and other similar sounding art rock bands are sometimes categorized as psychedelic rock. Wondering where this label came from, I discovered that most of the people I talked to in the audience had never done psychedelics, so this seemed to have little to do with it. Given the double irony that it was the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, and that I had skipped a local Phish show this same night, I wanted to figure out where this label came from. The band explained that where they are from on the west coast, the real hippies are actually the type of people who listen to art rock. Genres known today as psych rock or neo-psychedelic rock often sound like UK pop bands from the 1960's, and the guy who coined the term “psych rock” came from Texas, so the roots of the sound are hard to pin down. There was an accepting and non-egotistical atmosphere at the concert. Fans were standing around looking somber and subdued, which seemed perfectly normal. No one was jumping up and down in catharsis as someone’s fingers formed smoke on a fretboard. Because of this, The Warlocks, especially in their later work, have been described as the genre, shoegaze; a genre named after people who go to concerts and stare at their shoes. In the end, music is music and by dividing genres and subcultures into target markets it only suppresses artistic expression.

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