Perhaps I'm just a n00b at indie rock, but I get the feeling that Sunset Rubdown is very much unlike most pop-rock bands. They can scarcely be considered experimental rock (that would be the domain of aforementioned Awful Opening Bands; apparently one note played badly is a mistake, but one note played badly over and over with arpeggios in 5/5 time on an electric banjo is genius?) but they break rules I didn't even know existed. Like how rock is supposed to build up, climax, and wear out; or build around a chorus; or start strong, cool down, and start up strong again. Sunset Rubdown is more stream of awesomeness. Their tunes wander from tender to melancholy to rock-out-with-your-cock-out, but not at random--there's a subtle, unpredictable rhythm to the shifts in energy, which makes them more mood swings than bipolar emo disorder. The tempo jumps aren't dramatic as Echo, my favorite Taiwanese indie rock band (yes, I know, apples to oranges, shut up), but the variations lend a sort of jazzy, sort of classical feel that manages to allow gnetle crooning, soulful wailing, and HARD SCREAMING RAWK to cohabitate rather comfortably. And Krug's surreal, poetic lyrics are weirdly sublime. Little snippets like "I've heard of creatures who eat their babies / I wonder if they stop to think about the taste?" are funny until you realize that Krug is being completely serious. And then they're depressing. But then they're still funny.
This being indie rock, the band also draws upon a wide variety of influences. From the clearly British-folk opening to "Up Upon Your Leopard, Upon the End of your Feral Days" to the sort of Ween-like acid-trip weirdness of "Stadiums and Shrines," the band adamantly refuses to have that single marketable Sound that record producers are stereotypically always looking for. Their spread is nowhere near as random as a true experimental band like the Beta Band (apples and oranges again, shut up I am dreaming of places where lovers have wings), but it's nice being pleasantly surprised by each new set. Yes, I know, such experimentation is hardly unusual for this kind of music. But I'm a n00b, and I like what I hear. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that the guitar solo in "Shut Up I Am Dreaming Of Lovers With Wings" is improvised (or at least occasionally improved), as the live version was totally different from what I had heard from Vestal's mix CD.
I spent much of yesterday evening listening to their first album, "Snake's Got a Leg," which Krug recorded himself with a cheap laptop mic and a pair of computer speakers. That sounds creative and artistic, but it actually just means it sounds like a shit bootleg of itself. Somehow, it's still modestly listenable.
As for the show itself--well, popular stereotype holds that hipsters, especially of the variety that originated in the very neighborhood where the show was taking place, are condescending, unfriendly, and completely hostile to the enjoyment of music. I have never found stereotype to be true and this show was no exception. Take the 'Sco on any given night and move it to a venue four times the size, with three times as many people, and you have the Williamsburg Music Hall on Monday night. (That's a lot of American Apparel hoodies.) This is New York, so people still looked aghast when I tried to introduce myself or make conversation, but it was less "who the fuck is this creep and why is he talking to me" and more "friendly stranger wtf?" Also contrary to what Mitch Clem of Nothing Nice to Say may lead you to believe, out-of-college hipsters do dance. They don't go apeshit like punk or metal fans, but they still bop their heads and move their feet and act utterly ridiculous. It's hard not to, when the band is Sunset Rubdown and they are rocking so hard. And in true hipster fashion, there was a lot of drunken heckling--but it was unusually affectionate. Memorably, after the band had just finished a particularly high-energy rendition of "Three Color Bars," some dude in the back shouted "Hooray for your piano-driven melody song!", to much laughter and applause. Responded an embarrassed but amused Spencer Krug: "You got me there. Touche."
Speaking of, Spencer Krug is the man when it comes to stage personas. He doesn't try to be a rock star, or at least he pretends not to be, and that's exactly what makes him so awesome. In marked contrast to the high-energy screaming and wailing of his singing, he speaks between performances in a hushed, shy, almost Elliot Smith kind of voice, and when the applause is particularly riotous he thanks the audience humbly. This is clearly a facade, however--or perhaps he's saving his voice for the actual music instead of trying to work up the crowd between acts--as the inevitable glut of unexpected surprises that come with live performance will sometime cause him to swear with incongruous violence. His antics greatly amuse Camilla Ingr, the band's backing vocalist, percussionist, and glockenspielist (yes, you read that right, glockenspiel), and the two silent multi-instrumentalists whose names I don't remember because they never ever talk. The band shares some disarmingly casual stage chemistry:
Ingr, Doerkson, and Robson-Cramer walk off the stage, to shouts of "Encore!" from the audience. Krug twiddles with the amps and watches them amusedly. Moments later, they open the door and walk back to their instruments, smiling sheepishly.
Spencer: Apparently Camilla, Mike, and Jordan thought that was our last song.
Camilla: What the hell, Spencer?
(Band sound checks. Doerksen tunes his guitar.)
Spencer: (burying head in hands) Yes. We are clearly so, so professional. We're going to play Three Colors next, and then Wicked Wings, and...yeah. That'll be it.
Camilla: I thought we were going to play Wicked Wings and then--(Notices band is retuning instruments. Addresses audience.) Okay, never tell the audience you're planning an encore. This one time when I was seventeen I went to a show and I was so excited, I had a Stylus in my hand and--
Krug: Let's play some fuckin' music.
Camilla: ...Hey! You never let me talk!
Krug: One, two, three, four!
Drunken audience member: Play a long song!
Camilla: But we will play a new song, so Spencer doesn't get bored. (Audience uproar.)
Spencer: Michael Doerksen on the drums! (Crowd cheering.) Michael also plays guitar. He isn't very good, so we're going to let him play the next song so he can get a little practice.
Drunken audience member: I love this fuckin' band!
Spencer: We love you too, Warren.
My secret mission at this show was to meet people my age who are kind of like me (which dear God I need so desperately right now). Being shy around strangers, I failed rather spectacularly at that objective--nothing materialized beyond a few awkward introductions and a silly story I will tell you only if you know me well enough. But the music alone was worth it. And oceans never listen to us, anyway. *doo doo doo*
Williamsburg Music Hall--66 Sixth Street, in Brooklyn. Nightclub of the beast. Hidden in a warehouse in the kind of neighborhood where gangsters fight Batman. Electric Six is playing there on November 16. I just might go back for that.
And of course, what kind of person would I be to rant about an indie band for that many pages and not provide mp3s?