Harlem and Dante vs Zombies @ Spaceland, 2/20/10
When Dante vs. Zombies took the stage, from a purely visual standpoint, it looked as if someone had gone to a hipster party, picked out five random attendants, and said, "You guys are now in a band." There was the bassist in a full on red jumpsuit with a cowboy hat and boots, the guitarists who were in nerdy prep garb, the keyboardist who had a folk vibe about her, the drummer who looked like he just got off his shift at the hospital, and the lead singer who was dressed in a golden nightie and a hat that looked like it may have belonged to Paul Revere. None of which left any clues as to what sort of music they were going to play.
What ended up coming out was this1960s influenced garage rock, which was pretty straightforward, but not very adventurous. They seemed to falter whenever they started going somewhere interesting; like a kid who's learning to drive stick for the first time, they would stall and have to start over. In order to counter this hiccuping effect, their frontman did his best to dance his way into our hearts. What he lacked in vocal ability, he more than made up for in gyrations. Although he would sometimes get completely carried away with the music and end up in a corner or hitting the bassist in the face with his mic. But it turns out that no matter how sparkly your nightie is, it will not distract the audience from your vocal performance. Which was a damn shame because he really gave it his all, but ultimately Dante vs Zombies should take their fine drumming and pretty guitar licks and put them behind someone else.
After Dante vs Zombies cleared off, Matador Record's latest acquisitions, Harlem took the stage. This band is the perfect house party band. You could be at the most uptight party ever, and if they rolled up and plugged in, you could get people to dance. They play the kind of garage rock blended with surf rock that makes everyone want to shimmy. But they seem to be taking themselves more seriously these days, which is not necessarily a good thing. Their first album had a freaking winking emoticon called Free Drugs ;-) and had singles on it like "Psychedelic Tits and "I'm On Drugs." Their newest offering Hippies is still in that same freewheeling vein musically, but their songs like "Friendly Ghost", "Be Your Baby," and even with "Gay Human Bones" their lyrics seem to be more carefully crafted not to offend anyone, which is a shame because it feels like their playing it safe.
Don't get me wrong, their set was impeccable. These kids play their instruments well and have no difficulties churning up a crowd, but there is something almost clinical about it. Snotty garage rock is all about horrifying your audience. They should perhaps look towards the Black Lips for guidance in this regard. Spit on people. Get naked. Throw up on stage. Shock your audience. Don't hold back. That being said, I have high hopes for these guys from Austin. I really think as soon as they get in touch with their inner dirt bag, that they might be able to put on a really good show. At the moment though, it's coming off as cute.