Friday, February 27, 2009

Tokyo Police Club, Born Ruffians, and The Harlem Shakes @ The Black Cat

Jeff M. here. Last night I went to see a killer three-band bill at the Black Cat -- Tokyo Police Club, Born Ruffians, and The Harlem Shakes. The band of the night were Born Ruffians, who managed to upstage headliner Tokyo Police Club in the most humble manner possible. Van Halen upstaging the Nuge this was not.

The Harlem Shakes got things started with an energetic set of pop anthems, fleshing out the standard guitar/bass/drums/vocals formula with plenty of auxiliary percussion and electro flourishes. You see, when your band has six members onstage, like the Shakes did, you can indulge in the occasional baritone sax part or allow one to two members to wander around the stage during any given song like utility infielders, alternately shaking tambourines and smacking floor toms. I was in awe of the drummer's full command of his set, which included a drum on the floor, a trigger pad of electronic drum sounds straight out of the 1980s, and a sampler/drum machine gadget positioned on top of his kick drum (right next to the cowbell, of course). As I remarked to my friend Kevin, "Where does he get those wonderful toys?" Between him and the Al-Franken-at-16-only-with-white-jeans bass player bounding around the stage, I didn't know where to focus my attention.

Next up were the Born Ruffians, the aforementioned band of the night. My buddy Kevin loves these guys to death and seeing them live, it's not hard to see why. I slept on Red, Yellow, and Blue when it came out last spring, letting it collect dust in my CD inbox as I danced along to Hot Chip's Made in the Dark or some album of guitar feedback, but now I have seen the error of my ways. Live, the Ruffians reminded me so much of early Talking Heads, my all-time favorites. BR's songs (like those of the Heads) are danceable, bouncy, heavy on rhythm, and feature such eager, shouted lyrics that you feel like you're best friends with the singer. How could you not be? He's pouring his heart out to you! The Ruffians romped through most of Red, Yellow, and Blue, including standouts Barnacle Goose, Hedonistic Me, and I Need a Life (which they closed with). BR's drummer was either a new addition or a fill-in -- he was getting wide-eyed, head-nodding cues from the bass player throughout the set, giving me the impression he'd only been playing these songs a short while. It didn't show musically, though -- he played fantastically, laying down monster beats for the band to follow. During the opening song, BR's singer/guitarist betrayed a smile that said "Jesus Christ, I can't believe you're hitting the drums that hard!" As if I hadn't been already convinced by their performance, singer/guitarist Luke left us with this: "D.C. ya later."

After a 20-minute set change of almost rock-star proportions, Tokyo Police Club hit the stage, thankfully leaving their seizure-inducing lightshow from last year back home in Toronto. TPC has gotten much love from this blog: Master Shake, Zak C., and me all put Elephant Shell in our top 10 of 2008, and Georgy claimed it among her most underlistened albums of last year. The band played for about 75 minutes, including the encore, which means they had plenty of time to blow through their entire catalog (get it, their songs are short!). Elephant Shell and their 2 EPs were well-represented. EP songs like Nature of the Experiment, Your English is Good, and Citizens of Tomorrow (replete with astonishing audience handclap precision - way to keep a beat, D.C.!) were played with HI-NRG and in my estimation were the highlights of their set. I was a bit underwhelmed by the songs from Elephant Shell, like In A Cave and Tessellate, two of my favorites from that album. On record, those songs are so taut, they're almost airtight -- the least bit of sloppiness muddled the effect. TPC also road-tested some new songs which were slower and possibly longer than 3 minutes (one even featured an acoustic guitar). OMG, could Tokyo Police Club lengthen their albums simply by playing slower???

For TPC's encore, they invited the gents of Born Ruffians onstage to play a collabo song that, according to Kevin, sounded decidedly more Ruffian than Police-y. Then they brought the Harlem Shakes back onstage for a 13-man "encore extravaganza," gleefully bashing their way though The Clash's Train in Vain. Yes, that's right: the singer from Tokyo Police Club's voice is a dead ringer for Mick Jones! A floor tom smackdown begun by the Ruffians' bassist and Tokyo Police Club's keyboardist/tambourine extraordinaire crowded out the Shakes' Teenage-Al-Franken-in-White-Denim, who searched the stage frantically for a makeshift percussion instrument he could hit with a drumstick (full bottle of Red Stripe, not a good idea, abandoned after two hits; a pipe connected to the roof of the stage, much better choice). Born Ruffians' drummer, not to be left out, dragged his kick drum, snare, and hi-hats (!!!) out from backstage to beef up the throwdown's percussion section.

It was a great ending to a great show. I left all smiles. Go buy all these bands' albums, like right now.


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