Saturday, July 02, 2011
Operation: Make Brain Good, or R. Stevie Moore More More, How Do You Like It?
"Baby, you cry too much/I'm tired of the sound/You're such a baby" -- The Afghan Whigs, "Uptown Again"
To signify a shift in subject matter from how depressed I am and how much the world sucks, here is my progress report for the week. I'm still lousy at staying up too late and sleeping in too much, but I've been exercising more, eating less garbage late at night, and drinking less. All these things have me feeling a lot better after just a week. I feel a change coming on. For the first time in my life, I'm tired of certain behaviors I've engaged in for years. I don't enjoy getting drunk anymore. I don't enjoy stuffing my face with garbage at night. I used to love these things until last month, but I stopped getting a buzz from the path to gastronomic and alcoholic excess. I'm bored with myself when I do these things.
Fortunately, I'm still as committed to musical excess as I've ever been, so when two friends sent me two emails each urging me to see R. Stevie Moore, I decided to do a little investigating into the man. I'd read about him and heard a few songs on WFMU, but I was pretty unfamiliar with his work. I knew he was an eccentric guy who had recorded hundreds of albums in his bedroom and distributed and sold them on his own, but that was about it. I listened to several of his songs on YouTube after my friends' emails and knew I had to see the show. I'm a sucker for obstinate and eclectic bedroom geniuses, Neil Young and Prince being perhaps the most famous and successful examples. Robert Pollard, Dan Bejar, Gary Wilson, Captain Beefheart, Daniel Johnston, Roky Erickson, Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Judee Sill, Roy Harper, Tim Buckley, Alex Chilton. I'm lumping a lot of disparate talents together, but I think you can see some sort of vague aesthetic forming there. R. Stevie Moore fits this bill. Defiantly independent, Moore has self-released 400+ records of staggering variety, including early Zappa and Beefheart-esque avant-rock, Beach Boys sunshine falsetto pop, dreamy indie rock, Beatles covers, riff-based garage rock, psych, metal, country ballads, disco, and new wave.
Moore has never toured before, but a Kickstarter benefit gave him the financial freedom to tour the U.S. and Europe and record a new album. On the tour, he's backed by Brooklyn indie rock band Tropical Ooze. Though half the band's sartorial choices can only be described as sweaty 1970s head-injured pedophile dressed by drunken pirate gypsy blind mothers aka the last decade of indie-hipster sartorial puke, their musical skills are thankfully much sharper. They opened the show by themselves and were a likable blend of garage/psych/noise/pop with some serious freakout guitar chops. Sweetening the night for me, the next two acts on the bill were another obstinate bedroom genius, Jad Fair (formerly of Half Japanese) accompanied by a full band, and Pong, a band featuring a former coworker and all-around good guy and another friendly acquaintance of mine. I'd seen Jad Fair play a few songs by himself before a Yo La Tengo show, so the opportunity to see him play a full set with his band was welcome. I don't know how to write well about music, so I can only say his set was a magical, beautiful thing. Pong also delivered the fun. I used to see them play a lot when I worked with the aforementioned good guy, but a few years had passed since I last saw them. Some of them had more hair, others had less hair. One of them grew a giant beard. I really enjoyed myself. Finally, R. Stevie Moore played. Things started out a little shaky. The first four songs were good, but the mix was muddy and the band's chemistry was off. The performance was awkward. "Great," I started thinking to myself. "My friends see the amazing shows and I get the off night. That's the patented Dr. Mystery luck, baby." The band soon exited the stage and Moore played two songs by himself. Again, the mix was weird and the songs didn't quite come together. Then, the band came back and everything clicked. The following seven or eight or ten songs became one of the best live experiences of recent or ancient memory. Holy shit, what a show.
But I'm not here to write a mediocre concert review. I want to talk about something I saw there. The usual mix of indie hipsters, record geeks, reclusive weirdos, punks, and freakazoids (an obese guy with a V shaved in the back of his head who kept talking to his wrist, a middle-aged guy with a Captain Hook beard and women's shoes a few sizes too small, which had caused the heels to blow out, etc., a Mexican teenager with the underage XX on his hands who kept making out with a woman old enough to be his grandmother and bragging about his fighting skills, etc.), the crowd also contained a father and his young son and daughter. I kept my eye on them throughout the show. The father was, clearly, a cool dad (lowercase), not a Cool Dad. He had somehow managed to infect his children, caught in an era in which something that happened yesterday afternoon is already old and lame, with Jad Fair mania. He was thin, maybe 5'7", short hair, khaki shorts, nice leather shoes, button-up shirt that was neither rock and roll nor un-rock and roll. I'm guessing the daughter was 12 and the son 10. The boy was taller than his sister, but he had a mouthful of metal and stuck close to dad's side while she kept a few paces back and looked like she was just settling in to the nightmare of puberty. The boy had a naive, dreamy expression and kept gazing wonderingly at the drums and guitars and a pretty woman in a mini-skirt toward the front of the stage. The girl's face had lost the dreamy kid look. She had an openness in her face that junior high hadn't destroyed yet, and she probably still had another year before she'd be too embarrassed to go to a rock show with her dad and little brother, but you could see a little cynicism creeping into her eyes. She'd probably begun to realize that most adults were full of shit, that most of them were still stupid children, and she'd probably had a boy say something mean to her by this point in her life. When Jad Fair started to play, father, son, and daughter all grinned wide and nodded their heads and tapped their feet. It was cute and sweet, and it made me happy and sad. Jad Fair announced that the next song was about "different colors of dresses." The girl grinned wide, giggled, and smiled at her dad and brother. She started tapping out the drum beat on the wall. If I were a 12-year-old boy, I'd have a big crush on her. She's the kind of girl who would've crushed my heart a couple years later by telling me she just wanted to be friends, but we still would've traded mixtapes and probably smoked weed together for the first time in 11th grade. The brother and sister both have smart eyes and are probably readers. They're not rocking out for dad's benefit,either. These kids are genuinely psyched to be at the show. As the night wears on, the kids start to get tired but they don't want to show it. The boy continues to nod his head and tap his feet, but his heart isn't in it anymore. It's tough being a 10-year-old rock lover. You want to stay up late, but your body wants to go to bed at midnight. Dad's oblivious, which made me like him even more. Sometimes, you have to purposely ignore your children's pain to keep them from becoming narcissists. The girl rests her head on the wall. As she grows more tired, she scoots closer and closer to her dad and brother. She looks back at the crowd a few times and her face registers a complex disappointment in her own fatigue (so un-rock and roll) and in her dad for keeping them out so late. As R. Stevie Moore begins playing, Dad, still grinning widely, takes his kids to the bar for a beer and a couple of ice waters. The girl's face is grumpy now, reverting back to the child from the teenager. Some future significant other is going to see that face when the honeymoon period is over. I lose sight of them after that. After a good night's sleep, those kids are going to ignore the latter half of the show and remember the first half in the fond, partially revisionist dream-haze of the music obsessive. They got the fever. These kids are hooked.
P.S. Speaking of the fever, check this shit out. I just had multiple rockgasms. If that sentence turned you on and/or disgusted you, you're welcome.