Local TV news icon, community booster, courageous cancer survivor – there are many things you could call Wendy Chioji, but indie muse might not spring to mind. She is that, however, for local musician Ray Brazen, who wrote a catchy, tender pop song titled “Wendy Chioji Please Don’t Goji.” In it, he beseeches the WESH-2 News anchorwoman not to leave her post, which she announced she’ll do at the end of May. She’s a popular local celeb, but permeating the ivory tower of the indie underground is a pretty impressive feat, so go on witcha bad self, Wendy. Cop the song at www.myspace.com/raybrazen.
Perhaps it’s just that the moon was in a lenient phase this week, but some bands passed muster despite coming in with intrinsic handicaps. Don’t get used to it, though. Charity works for guys like Jesus, not critics.
For example, there’s plenty to pan about local band Knickers Down right off the bat. That stupid name, for one. Moreover, they’re a cover band that punks up other people’s songs, many of questionable provenance (Sublime, Tommy Tutone, Deep Blue Something, The Rocky Horror Picture Show … you get the picture).
But their show at the Haven April 13 wasn’t half-bad. Gimmicky and pedestrian, to be sure, but reasonably fun. In a world full of cover bands, I’d rather have a punk-rock one than your stock bar band. Besides, even punks get married, and someone’s gotta play their receptions, right?
That said, Knickers Down did create a moment of relative inspiration with their finale of “Sympathy for the Devil” featuring four percussionists. Now, how many times have you joined an Oi! chant to the Rolling Stones?
Another blindside was California indie-pop band the Little Ones April 14 at the Social. As perpetually sunny and unabashedly gleeful as they are, this could’ve gotten ugly. But with contagious irrepressibility and hooks that truly hook, they sold it like a troupe of pied pop pipers. Their sparkling, giddy melodies are just about as pure as it gets with regard to guitar pop. I may just love them. Oh, and they’re Asian-fronted. Toldja – the takeover has already begun.
Also charming, though not quite as insanely infectious, was the string-draped chamber-pop of Syracuse act Ra Ra Riot. Their baroque take on indie-pop may be spiked with just enough bounce to buy ’em a ticket to ride the coattails of the Vampire Weekend craze.
Want proof that the South fuckin’ rules? Check the two rising Yank bands that lovingly romanticized the aesthetic at Back Booth earlier that night. As their music can tend toward overwrought melodrama, Indiana’s Murder by Death qualifies as another of this week’s surprises because they translated it live into a solid set oozing with doomed passion.
Stealing the show, however, was stunning NYC band O’Death, whose take on American folk music is even more eerie and gothic than Murder by Death’s. What they do live is no ordinary porch jam. They take the raw concept of the hootenanny, bash it out like bloodthirsty punks and elevate it to an unhinged, full-tilt Appalachian freakout. It’s the sort of sick-ass, fever-pitch rapture that typically involves snake-handling and glossolalia. Next to O’Death, the famously climactic Avett Brothers are total squares. At once thrilling and ominous, they could turn a death rattle into a barnstorming revival. Covering the Pixies’ “Nimrod’s Son” – with all its Cracker insanity – was the perfect cap to their performance.
I’ve been sweet on these guys since they tore up Will’s Pub as an unsigned band a couple of years ago. They have one of the most identifiable sounds and are one of the most stirring live bands today. Now that they’re signed to respectable indie label Ernest Jenning, look for their star to finally rise.
On April 15, the median age of downtown was kicked up a decade or two when Rush turned the Amway into a Charybdis for classic rock heads. Trekkies have their conventions; rock geeks have Rush concerts. The Canadian trio laid down the proggy excess and arena grandeur like seasoned legends, so respect due, respect given. The adventurousness that first moved so many can still be heard in their intricacy. And of course there were copious up-close shots of their instrumental technique on the big screens. But the ridiculously generous airtime dedicated to live footage of the players giving “guitar face” was so not needed. Seriously.[email protected]