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LIVE SHOTS

Dag, and Mother May I
Neeb Hall, Arizona State University campus, Tempe
February 22, 1995

If you ever thought that being signed to a major label was the ticket to Easy Street, you should have made it to this show, a double helping of rising acts recently inked to majors. But that status doesn't mean a big paycheck. It doesn't mean anyone will actually show up at the gig. And it certainly doesn't mean that sound men are going to reach into their hearts and come up with anything as effusive as respect.

Just ask Damon Hennessey, lead singer/guitarist for Mother May I. During sound check, Hennessey had the temerity to ask a technician from Sound City Ltd. (the company providing sound that night) if something could be done about the monitors. The succinct, professional reply was this: "I'm not going to mangle the mix for a fuckin' opening act." Gosh, twiddling knobs can really get to a guy.

If abusive technicians weren't enough, both Mother May I and Dag found themselves looking out at a very large, very empty auditorium. Who'da thunk it? The tour was sponsored by Sony, Rolling Stone magazine and Nike, three megapowers showcasing the groups at colleges across the country. Captive audiences, right? Look at ASU: With an enrollment of almost 50,000 students, most of them under 21 (not counting fake IDs), and a $3 cover charge, the place should have been packed, right? Exactly .05 percent of the student population showed up. That's 25 people. Not counting the guy selling shoes and shirts made from hemp.

Yet the bands were undaunted. In the case of hooks-and-brimstone Mother May I, at least, call it Pure Pop for No People. Either these guys were immune to the sight of 300 empty lecture-hall seats (complete with little folding desks and complimentary Dag promotional plastic cups) or they had great imaginations. Look into the red spotlight real hard and you just might see a sweating, worshipful throng. . . . Whatever the case, the band ripped through a set of blistering songs that go a long way toward putting the power back into power pop.

Wearing his influences very clearly on his sleeve, Hennessey led the band (now sans former Feedbag and cover-band namesake David Swafford) through a series of songs that hearken back to a time when Cheap Trick ruled the airwaves in the States and the Jam was king of the British Isles. Very loud, meaty guitar, cannon-shot drumming, heavy bass and solid harmonies. The songs from MMI's new CD, Splitsville, follow this simple formula, and MMI drew heavily from the album. The best songs, "In a Box," "Painted On" and "Teenage Jesus," were enough to get one member of the intimate gathering, a guy who had probably never seen the front row of a lecture hall, up and dancing. It was sort of a one-man mosh pit. The band ended its set with the very Wholike single "In Between" before launching into the genuine article's paean to masturbation, "Pictures of Lilly."

Fortunately for the second act, Dag, most of the, er . . . crowd stayed in its seats while the Raleigh, North Carolina, five-piece served up a mix of funk and R&B. Unlike most white-boy, alternative-funk acts, the band's influences go a little further back than the Red Hot Chili Peppers, thankfully drawing from the likes of Earth, Wind and Fire, James Brown and the funkier side of Stevie Wonder. The only thing missing was the horns. Singer/bassist Bobby Patterson is a small guy who, judging by looks alone, would be picked least likely to front a funk band; but once he strapped on his bass, you would swear he was born to play this stuff. In songs like "Plow" and "Lovely Jane," he gave the band a bottom end that seemed to go deep enough to hit water. Oddly, despite the irresistible groove Dag slapped out, the lonely dancing guy inexplicably sat down. Perhaps his course at the Michael Stipe School of Dance hasn't gotten to soul yet.

After its final song, Dag received as thunderous an ovation as two dozen people could muster, but when the lights came up, the mystical rock juju disappeared. The hemp man was long gone, a college volunteer collected the souvenir plastic cups and our favorite sound guy was left to get Neeb Hall ready for the next day's lecture. Yeah, this is rock 'n' roll.--Dave Purcell

Sebadoh, Pine Wyatt, Jimmy Eat World, and Lower Case
Nile Theater, Mesa
February 18, 1995

You've gotta love going to all-ages shows. Where else can you see people playing tag between sets or the vicious brand of circle slam-dancing that's equal parts ring-around-the-rosey and Altamont? Though the body-checking youngsters seemed not to care where their limbs landed, it was a surprise to see at least half the crowd wearing Day-Glo earplugs. Real tough punks. Maybe they were saving the top end of their hearing for the evening's headliner, Sebadoh. If so, they missed the other three bands, groups that produced some of the best sounds of the night.

 

Local power trio Pine Wyatt performs at many of the area's all-ages shows, and is expert at keeping kids with short attention spans rapt. Like speeding up and slowing down. The band's opener, "Dragon Shit," had at least 22 tempo changes, and that's a conservative estimate. That the band somehow managed to come back on beat most of the time is largely because of the sensational, shamanistic drumming of Peter Schmidt. Most front men in this town don't utilize a tenth of Schmidt's emotional gamut. In the band's more frantic musical moments, when both guitarist John Hofmann and bassist Ryan Kennedy turned their backs to the audience to pull feedback duty, Schmidt may as well have been the front man, anyway.

Besides "Dragon Shit," other high points included the Tom Verlaine-ish "Jewelry Spangled Suitcase" and a cover of They Might Be Giants' "Ana Ng." The only weak spot in the set (besides the incessant guitar tuning) was an aptly titled second song, "So Long," which seemed even more lengthy since it had no tempo changes whatsoever. That number, hopefully in a truncated form, will appear on a compilation CD to be released soon by the Tempe-based Wooden Blue label.

Already on Wooden Blue is the second act of the night, the Valley's Jimmy Eat World, whose pile-driving hard-core/punk came across even more effectively live than on its ferocious, self-named CD. The disc's The Wonder Years-style cover depicts an older brother ready to administer a burning head noogie unto his younger sibling; Jimmy Eat World's set was like one long, burning head noogie. But who can't use an adrenaline rush now and again? The band's two singer/guitarists, Thomas Linton and James Adkens, displayed boundless energy, but released it in completely different ways. When Linton's not anchored to the mike, spitting out, he's pogoing and spinning around out of time to the music. Adkens merely bows furiously, like a Japanese businessman on speed.

After opening with an instrumental that didn't quite work (and which included snippets of Smashing Pumpkins' "Greatest Day"--huh?), the band apologized to the crowd and got down to business. Songs like "Reason 346," "House Arrest" and the new, unrecorded "Robot Factory" sounded political, but in an ambiguous, Pearl Jam sort of way. Linton's aggressive snarls tended to dominate the lead-vocal chores, but it was Adkens' wailing at the top of his range during "Usery" that provided both CD and live show with its finest moment. This boy can really sing!

You won't find anybody making a case for Lower Case, a guitar-and-drum duo that was Sebadoh's traveling companion for this leg of its tour. Bands without a bass player are nothing new; House of Freaks walked that same line years ago. But while HOF was a pop band that utilized sung melodies as a third instrument, Lower Case seemed nothing more than a mediocre noise band without a bassist. No one heckled, but quite a few people took Lower Case's set lying down--literally catnapping in the back of the Nile.

To make matters worse, Sebadoh's long-awaited set, the main event, well--it kinda sucked. The Sub Pop recording artists arrived in Phoenix right about when Pine Wyatt was starting its set--too late to properly sound check. "We drove nine hours to get here," singer/guitarist Lou Barlow told the audience, "but I guess everybody drives nine hours to be here. It was really a beautiful drive." Without telling anyone it was sound checking, the group lumbered through a listless 12-minute jam that sounded like Spinal Tap doing freeform jazz exploration. Hadn't we already suffered enough with Lower Case? And for all of that noodling, the set was still riddled with annoying feedback and ground-switch noises.

Not only did Sebadoh's song choices this night favor older, more obscure material, but the band's set list completely ignored the entire first half of 1994's stupendous album Bakesale, probably one of the most pop-perfect sides in recent memory. Judging from the crowd's response to Bakesale treats ("Dramamine," "Together or Alone," "S. Soup" and "Give Up"), this was the big draw of the night. Yet those songs are not the disc's strongest; Sebadoh inexplicably chose not to play--and ignored cries for--"Careful," "License to Confuse," "Not a Friend" and "Not Too Amused." Worse, bassist Jason Loewenstein seemed unwilling to sing at all, preferring to yell all of his vocals like an enraged Adam Sandler.

But, gosh, it's kind of hard to be mad at Lou Barlow. The guy looked like John Sebastian, sang sensitive songs about not going out and wore a yellow Cheerios tee shirt he "found in my parents' attic." Despite what the band can pull off in the studio, maybe Sebadoh is simply incapable of putting on a show that's anything more than a glorified rehearsal. Before the last song, Barlow 'fessed up to it being a lame show, saying, "We had a bad day. This was the best we could do. Thanks for coming, and come see us when we're better." Bad day? What happened to the beautiful drive?--

 


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