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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Songs Are Just Something to Waste Your Time

posted by on April 1 at 10:43 AM


The Cribs, Ra Ra Riot, Jeffrey Lewis @ Chop Suey

I may have been a little late to Jeffrey Lewis—I hadn’t heard of him until his recent 12 Crass Songs landed on my desk—but I am wholly converted. I’ve yet to hear Lewis play a song, be it a Crass cover or one of his own, that I didn’t like. Last night was no different. Lewis played sans the rhythm section of the Jitters but with the accompaniment, on voice and casiotone, of Helen Schreiner. They played two songs I’d not heard before—”Life” and “Back When I Was Four”—and both of them were smart, sweet, funny, and heartbreaking, frequently swinging from silly to serious on a single well-crafted line. The place wasn’t packed last night—there was an empty half-circle where no one was standing in front of the stage—but it was still impressive how much appreciative silence Lewis’ quieter moments were able to inspire in the crowd.

I also may have erred in my recent description of Ra Ra Riot, who are much better summed up as a miniature Arcade Fire. That’s not a slight, either. The young upstate New York sextet resemble that band in all the right ways: bounding breathless energy, tuneful string section shredding, cute bookish looks, inscrutably anthemic songwriting. They’re a fun band to watch—all those kids bouncing around the stage, floppy haired singer switching from mic to mpc, violinist and cellist (both electric) swaying and bowing and rocking out as much as is possible for a string section.

The only problem is that, while all of their songs sound good, no one song sounds that much better than any other; that is, none of their songs really stand out from the others. The reason, I suspect, may be that their lyrics, sung in a howl and frequently lost amidst all the instrumentation, aren’t so clear as to mark each song with its own memorable chorus. I’m not sure I could recall one line from last night’s show. Still, better to sound uniformly, if indistinguishably good, than to sound distinctly bad.

Which doesn’t exactly bring us to the Cribs, but I will say this: After stepping outside between sets, I returned to find the Cribs playings something that I can only describe as being not “Men’s Needs.” Rather, it was some spittle-soaked, thrashing, garbled punk rock. I enjoyed the Cribs set at Capitol Hill Block Party last summer—I recall it being a pretty tense mix this stuff and some smarter, more polished pop sensibility—but I just wasn’t feeling it last night. I left after a couple songs.

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Ra Ra Riot is definitely underrated. Hadn't heard of them before I saw them as the opening act supporting Editors last year at Chop Suey. They were seriously fun, and much more enjoyable than the second opener, Biffy Clyro. Saw them again at SXSW and they were just as good, maybe better. And let's face it - cellist Alexandra Lawn is incredibly easy on the eyes.

Posted by rk | April 1, 2008 12:07 PM

I've been working on my bookish looks. I think I have a couple down. It's a combination of perplexed sideways glancing eyes and a hard thought 'I'm in the middle of a mindblowing novel' forehead. Like it's the scene from the book you see, not what's really there.

Plus a scarf.

Posted by trent moorman | April 1, 2008 12:14 PM

A scarf definitely helps. So does an electric cello.

Posted by Eric Grandy | April 1, 2008 12:27 PM

The Cribs' other singer is much better than the more punk-rock guy, and his songs (including Mens' Needs) were great -- but their set wasn't the highlight of the night at all.

I'm sorry, but was Ben Gibbard in the crowd at this show? I am almost 100% certain it was him (and some ladies took a picture of him), but I didn't want to disturb someone well known looking to enjoy a show.

Posted by bellevue & belmont | April 1, 2008 1:21 PM

Oh yeah, Ben Gibbard was there. He's a big Jeffrey Lewis fan.

Posted by Eric Grandy | April 1, 2008 1:53 PM

That's kinda awesome.

Posted by bellevue & belmont | April 1, 2008 2:15 PM

I think it is so cute how much eric loves jeff lewis... just saying.

Posted by Poor Will | April 2, 2008 10:19 AM

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