Wolf Parade: Expo 86

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Artist: Wolf Parade

Title: Expo 86
Release date: June 29
Label: Sub Pop

Last night, I made an unplanned run down to the Yucca Tap Room to catch this band called Shapiro, a group of pleasant young men from the D.C. area who play piano-driven pop-rock songs that, at their best recall 1970s classic rock and the sort of Elton John-type songwriting that ruled that particular decade. 

It's not really cup of tea, so the only reason I went was because I received a text message from music editor Martin Cizmar around 9:30 (I'd just finished watching Hell's Kitchen) saying, "Shapiro is DYING to meet you." See, this spring I wrote about their self-titled debut at the behest of Martin, who really likes these guys from way back when he worked in Virginia. 

I gave them a C. To me, their record showed scads of promise but lacked the kind of one-two punch (read: one truly unimpeachable song) that would merit a better grade. So, I figured I'd better go face the music and meet the band. (Plus, I can't recall anyone really wanting to meet me, so I figured I'd better make the most of the rare opportunity.)

They were supposed to hit the Yucca's stage at 10, but they actually waited until I arrived at 10:15 to play their first note. I was amused by this. (And I wondered whether Sleigh Bells or Midlake would afford me the same courtesy someday.)

Turns out the boys had a bunch of new songs that they felt better represented the current state of the band, as opposed to the record I'd heard, and they wanted me to hear it. Why? I don't know, but so it goes. While talking to a few of them (only the singer, the only guy I singled out in my write-up, seemed a little chilly. But that's okay -- there were some cute girls hanging all over him and I, for obvious reasons, didn't rate), they pretty much agreed with many of the things I'd written and said they all had a good laugh at my Nothing Not New post.

I talked to a few of the guys for a while, and they were really down-to-earth dudes. Just five guys on the road for five weeks, playing 30-35 shows like Tuesday night's: sparse but appreciative crowd, little money, sleeping on other dudes' floors before cramming into an amp- and drum-filled van for a six-hour drive to the next town. In short, they're living the dream. 

So, how was the show? I'm not going to be rushing out to buy a Shapiro CD anytime soon, but I was impressed with their considerable talent, energy, and road-tested tightness. First, they passed the most important test of any live band: They had a very good rhythm section. Another thing I liked: They played 30 minutes (no, this is not a back-handed compliment; unless you're a known quantity, 30 minutes is more than enough) and actually left me standing there wanting another song or two. And here, I think, is the ultimate compliment: I was never bored during their set (even though like I said, their piano- and synth-driven pop-rock isn't really my bag).

So, godspeed, Shapiro. You took my criticism with graciousness and good humor -- and then you performed a very solid set of smartly written and arranged classicist indie pop. I'm guessing you met a couple of cool people and won a few fans Tuesday night, and that's really all that any band can ask for. I sincerely wish you only the best in your musical endeavors. I hope I can one day say: "I knew those guys when . . ."
Best song: Sorry, Wolf Parade, but Shapiro took up all the space today. You had several real strong moments on your record, Expo 86, but the filler kinda zapped me. Your 55-minute record is excessive. You don't have enough good material for 55 minutes. Opening track: The unfortunately titled "Cloud Shadow on a Mountain" was the best. I was surprised it rocked as much as it did.
Rotation: Medium-low.
Deja vu: English post-punk circa 1981.
I'd rather listen to: The Volcano Suns
Grade: B-

"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 41-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

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