By Martin Cizmar
Maybe it’s that I recently read John Sellers’ Perfect From Now On, a memoir which ends up being all about indie outfit Guided By Voices, but I couldn’t help but think about the band who gave We Are Scientists their name Monday night.
From the Brooklyn-based band’s opener, “Impatience,” on, they pulled a (Robert) Pollard, making a special effort to connect with a smallish Monday crowd at Tempe’s Clubhouse Music Venue. It worked – W.A.S. put on a great show. Their work was underscored by their co-headliner, The Stills, who went the opposite way, reaping the opposite result.
W.A.S., played for about an hour, delivering great energy with their brand of clattery indie rock accompanied by lyrics that sound like something whispered in your ear around closing time. “This Scene is Dead” from their 2006 debut With Love and Squalor – one of the decade’s best rock songs, as far as I’m concerned – came early in the set. “That's What Counts,” one of those bumpy barroom conversations (“We shouldn't think about last night/nobody's proud of what they've done/Oh, let's not argue about what's right/let's just agree that it was fun”) came near the end. Along the way, Murray sang an entire song in the audience, and shared some great banter with Chris Cain, really connecting with the sparse crowd.
By 11:40, when the Stills got on, the crowd had thinned a bit – probably to below 50. Wearing all black, the brooding Montreal quintet opened with “Don't Talk Down” the first track on their new record Oceans Will Rise. Ironically, it felt like the band wasn’t taking it’s own advice. Other than scolding the Arizona audience about John McCain (yawn) and dedicating a song to Sarah Palin they didn’t say much more than the names of the songs they were about to play. (Sample quote: “This is a song about some time spent in Eastern Europe, it’s called ‘Eastern Europe.’”) What’s more, they stood at the edge of the Clubhouse stage striking rock stage poses during their guitar solos, lording their axes over the front row of onlookers and, at one point, raising the two guitars and bass in unison, in true Spinal Tap fashion. They sounded OK, but in a big empty club, in front of a Monday crowd, it was hard to focus on the often shoe-gazey sound with all the posturing on stage.
It is, I think all would agree, definitely not what Pollard would do.