THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND 


All right, honey-pie, time to scrape the holiday sleep from your eyes. The days of entertainment privation are over and the concert calendars are finally beginning to thaw. So let's get back to business.

Wardrobe please!

I have a unique relationship with local novelty band Killer Robots. I love their extravagantly costumed comedy but hate their nerve-plucking music. Hate it. However, judging from a recent performance at the Social, it seems they made a New Year's resolution not to suck so bad. And they did so simply by adding a live drummer. Though the juxtaposition makes their low-tech electronic freakout passages that much more annoying, it's a marked improvement. Seriously. At this rate, they may soon outgrow their current status as "Best Shitty Band in Town."

Should that occur, the coveted title won't be vacant for long. Nearly as sartorially outrageous but significantly less ironic is local act Vascular Symphony, who played the Peacock Room last weekend. In the way of rock performance, these characters definitely bring back the theatrics: flamboyant outfits, metal-grated stage, severe up-lighting, the whole nine. But this is another band whose closet tends to outrun its art.

Interestingly enough, I was on the same sports team as Trá (né Tramaine Dion) — who shares their vocal duties and is credited with "public relations" (whatever that means) — back in high school, which was the last time this sort of industrial rock was in vogue. It's not that they're bad; they're not. It's that, artistically, they're in a cul-de-sac. They would've been a kick-ass band in, say, 1990, so to call the affair démodé is to understate. A girl actually walked past me cooing, "I wanna sit on your face." No, not a come-on — the Lords of Acid song. Their stage show was impressive, so go if you're looking for visual kicks. Or if you spend a lot of time in "the pit" at Independent Bar. But musically, Vascular Symphony is nothing more than a revival act.

Art vs. Philanthropy

In trying to make a difference in the world, local band The Oaks has been pressing very hard to make a local impression with a smotheringly aggressive sense of promotion. The story behind them is that frontman Ryan Costello went to Afghanistan for a couple of years to serve with Global Hope Network International, a humanitarian group that provides aid in remote areas of the world. His experiences there are the impetus for this project, with half of the profits from record sales going directly to widows and returned refugees in Afghanistan. A compelling angle, isn't it?

Well, the way it's stacked, I may sound like a total cur for reproving a band whose raison d'être is that honorable, but someone's gotta call it. Unfortunately, their expression doesn't convey the potentially rich perspective with much pathos at all. Artistically, it just doesn't dig very deep. There's nothing that elevates their music above mere auditory wallpaper. To their credit, however, their sound was miles more robust live with the six-piece performance ensemble handling sundry instruments including brass, bells, keyboard and accordion. But it still wasn't a strong enough vehicle to carry their message. From the images they projected, taken by Costello while in Afghanistan, his adept photography is far more qualified to speak than their music.

Thank god there are people like these guys in the world; we need more of them. What we don't necessarily need is for all of them to strap on instruments and get behind a mic. But if music's the medium through which you choose to communicate, you've gotta win us over on those terms. Obviously, they're decent humans. As musicians, however, they're guilty of an artlessly literal approach to making "message" music. I realize they brought up their backstory during the show in the interest of raising awareness, but the repetition felt an awful lot like mild self-righteousness. There are more graceful ways to do this. Ultimately, they need to make a decision: Are they musicians or humanitarian evangelists foremost? Without that established, they'll always be somewhere in between, and that's the same as being nowhere.

Finally, I caught Post Records artist Sean Moore at Back Booth. As a multi-instrumentalist, he's clearly talented. The problem lies in his artistic sensibility. The guy just doesn't know when enough is enough. As a member of the Heathens, he fluttered seemingly unchecked all over their debut album with his almost classical-leaning violin style. Even in this acoustic context, his expression had lots of left-field detail but little core. Some people are sated by frippery alone — just look at the Rococo period — but it takes more than that to impress in this space. Moore's music isn't wretched, but it's far from substantial and difficult to take seriously. He did, however, hit the lottery by closing the set with an absolutely inspired cover of Kraftwerk's "Computer World."


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