Apparently, it takes at least three days to recover from WW
's Best New Bands
showcase. Yeah, it was that good. So good, in fact, that all I've been saying for the past few days is "all three bands were on top of their games" and "best Best New Band showcase yet." The thought of writing about the show honestly hadn't occurred to me. But now that I've had a chance to let all that awesomeness sink in, it's high time I told you past-capacity folks and stay-at-homers how it all went down.
Upon arriving at Berbati's (I got there pretty early, around 8:45 pm), the line was still stretching down the block, past Voodoo Doughnut and across the Paris Theater's entryway. I panicked a little (naively assuming the show would start on time at 9 pm), as I was planning to introduce the evening and the bands before openers Loch Lomond went on. Being the big-wig music editor that I am (good god, please don't take that seriously), I thought the Berbati's folks on the restaurant side might let me in the back way by the video games and pool tables. Not so. I meandered back to the 3rd Avenue side of the building only to find that the doors hadn't even been opened when I first saw the line. The 100 or so people who had been waiting were now inside. Soon I was, too.
I hate going onstage (hence the whole writing-about-music-instead-of-playing-it gig), but Best New Band time is a special time of year for local music and local music fans, something we WW
music scribes don't take lightly. So I felt the show ought to at least have a proper, celebratory introduction. There wasn't much for me to do but mill about by the stage entrance (not a big fan of the green room), drink and say hit to incoming friends and coworkers; I was just waiting to get it over with. Sooner or later, Loch Lomond's Ritchie Young emerged, wearing huge, mom-ish tortoise shell glasses, a yellow crew-neck sweatshirt covered with little silk-screened thingys (I thought they looked like fishing lures, but was still unable to identify them by set's end). I got my little intro over with (always less painful than I imagine), and the acoustic ensemble (which placed fourth in this year's BNB poll) quickly filled the stage with its huge—both sound- and member-wise—presence.
Shortly thereafter, while Young was belting out in his effeminate voice, "Now we're having fun/ Now we're living life" (the lyrics to "Elephants and Little Girls," from the band's recent split 12-inch with this year's Best New Band, the Builders and the Butchers), a few people cut in front of me in line for the bar. I was so enraptured that I don't think it was at all clear I was trying to grab a drink. That's the power of choral backing, I tell ya.
Back in front of the stage, I felt stupid for wasting any time grabbing drinks. Loch Lomond, which is filled out by Scott Magee, Laurel Simmons, Heather Broderick, Jade Eckler, Amanda Lawrence, Pia Da Silva and Dave Depper (plus a flute-playing woman who contributed to a few songs and whose name I missed), was seriously breathtaking. On "Field Report," a song from the band's recent Hush release, Paper the Walls
, Young sang in a Sufjan Stevens-esque manner, "The sound of children laughing/ Makes my eyes bleed." It's a line that pretty much embodies all the oft-grotesque beauty to be found in Loch Lomond's music. And, I imagined, a fine introduction for new listeners.
The band's sound is orchestral, expertly played and polished, and that all came across quite convincingly last Saturday. But it's also undoubtedly raw, especially when it comes to having a line on human nature—as later numbers "Tic" and "Virgin Mountain" (both from excellent '06 EP, Lament for Children
) aptly proved. Their huge proclaimations—"I am not an animal" and "I'm tired of being a mountain," respectively, coupled with dynamic and delicate instrumentation (bassist Depper was even multi-tasking on some tunes, playing bass or guitar as well as a tiny suitcase of bells, which he'd occasionally glance at with some disdain) drove that notion home with an easy power. And Young-as-bandleader was in somewhat rare form—smiling his broad, thick-toothed smile and joking about hiding the pee spot on his jeans behind his guitar. Then he introduced "Carl Sagan," and when his sonic army shouted the arching refrain, "Pay attention!" clipping off the ends rather tersely, everyone did just that.
Acoustic acts at Best New Band showcases haven't always faired so well (take Laura Gibson's talked over solo set last year or Tractor Operator turning has back to the audience and playing to a small circle of fans onstage the year before for prime examples). But Loch Lomond was starting the night off the same way the Butchers would end it: with big, big, acoustic sound. But first, Starfucker!
Josh Hodges and company, multi-instrumentalists Ryan Biornstad and Shawn Glassford, came out fully dressed in drag—wigs, dresses, makeup; the whole shebang—toting a giant, inflated gold number 2 (laughably indicating the band's placement in this year's BNB poll) and dancing from the get-go. Biornstad proceeded to take center-stage and switch between singing, playing guitar, near-stripteasing (he bared his purple pantied butt to the crowd while bumping and grinding with himself) and spinning records. His mascara bled as the beat-heavy set progressed, but he didn't let that get him down. Oh, no: These guys were here to have pure, unadulterated fun.
Meanwhile, Hodges and Glassford beat their dual drum kits into a fury, the former singing in his soft, lulling voice much of the while. The set started out with "German Love," a serious crowd favorite and the type of infectious groove that'd make an instant fan out of anyone. And—after a bustling set that ranged from hip-hop beats and sugary pop melodies to noise and straight-up dance music—Starfucker went out with their other strongest cut, “Rawnold Gregory Erickson II.” I honestly think they could've riffed on that one for a good half-hour with nary an objection.
LocalCut editor Casey Jarman later remarked that it was the best Starfucker show he'd seen (and, believe me, he's seen a few). It was my first time seeing the band since it was, well, a band (Hodges used to perform solo as Starfucker, looping backing vocals, guitars and other instrumentation along to live drumming), and I was blown away. I mean, I don't really dance much. I rock out a lot
, but I don't sweat-dripping, need-a-drink-of-water dance—and I was getting down
Afterward, a girl in line for the bar told me she'd come for the Builders and Loch Lomond, but totally fell in love with Starfucker. Earlier in the night, a girl in the ladies room told me the same thing in reverse: She'd come to see Starfucker, but thought Loch Lomond was R-A-D. "That's why we do this thing," I said. And it is. Much love was brought on the band's parts, as well. Depper (pictured below engulfed in our LocalCut banner) threw a really nice shout out to Jarman and myself (thanks, Dave!) during Loch Lomond's set, and Hodges (also pictured below in his pink wig and black gown, both of which he wears not-all-that-surprisingly well) threw Local Cutter Nilina Mason-Campbell into his round of thank yous. The Builders, for their part, spread the Willy Week love and gave a big ol' finale style musical hug to their mates, Loch Lomond—but we're not quite there yet...
Finally, the Builders and the Butchers, five strong and fully amped, came out. The venue, which had been at- or near-capacity all night, remained packed—as the temp in Berbati's clearly indicated. Exhaustion and heat notwithstanding, this year's Best New Band did not disappoint. With a fury of nasally vocals (courtesy of crazy-eyed frontman Ryan Sollee), a barrage of strings (deeper ones at the hands of acoustic bassist Alex Ellis, who was looking especially Daniel Day Lewis-y, and high and furious ones at the quick-strumming hands of mandolin and banjo player Harvey Tumbleson) and a fiery onslaught of percussion (thanks to hard-working fellas Ray Rude and Paul Seely), they were off! And went right along with 'em.
So right-along, in fact, that many audience members chimed became like extras in the band, singing along to gospel-influenced choruses or contributing additional noise with actual instruments. This time, though, I think some fans brought their own
auxiliary noise-makers. See, the Builders often hand out little kids' drums, shakers, tambourines and the like, but there were fans all across the audience (too many, it seemed to me, to have been supplied by the band) with rattling gadgetry—including a guy a bit too close to my left who was banging a chunk of metal with a mallet. He chilled out after awhile, and we were back to focusing on the band.
Plenty of high-energy tunes, from "Bottom of the Lake" to "Black Dresses" were slaughtered (in a good way), with refrains sung en masse and feet stomped all around. I've had "Went It Rains," a tune from aforementioned split 12-inch, in my head for days. It features a bevy of castanets and some mournful mariachi-tinged trumpet that's just fucking killer. And Builders, contrary to their name, brought the house down with it.
And that was before they brought the whole damn Loch Lomond crew back out onstage (plus Norfolk & Western, M. Ward and sometime-Bright Eyes drummer Rachel Blumberg, plus another dude I didn't recognize) for a combo-group rock out—everyone singing and carrying on in one giant cluster. The lot of 'em made an honest-to-god racket, just as any party ensemble should. Just as the Builders always do. After all, when you're demon-ousting and storm-beckoning, there's strength in numbers. And man did it pour.
Builders photo by Jim Newman; all other photos by Emily Cable.