green riot squad

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Went downtown tonight to see some rock and roll. Attempted to see Casiotone for the Painfully Alone at a place called Hotel, which isn't a club, really, more a sort of empty space at the end of a corridor on the fourth floor of what I suspect is a punk flophouse. As I got there, a band called Better To See You With was just starting--screamy grindy hardcore, and very precise. They played five songs in six minutes, then lugged their fourteen hundred pounds of gear into the corridor. Somebody else set up even more gear and started doing pedal-knob twiddling that that controlled huge waves of X-Treem electronic noise. I wanted plinkety little indiepop songs tonight, so as much as I liked the scene (there was a 50ish woman there who seemed as into it as the badge-and-piercing teenagers, and in general everybody seemed very happy) I realized I just wasn't in the mood for extreme volume.

So I headed over first to Dante's, where I determined that the Country Teasers would be playing way too late to dream of catching public transportation home afterwards, and then to Berbati's Pan, for the "Sex Workers' Art Show" that Kate had emailed me about. More a sort of cabaret thing than an art show, really, and more a very long series of readings than either. Note to self: the first night of a band's tour is a good time to catch them; the first night of a reading tour is not. Fortunately, Kate was there, and so was a fabulous friend of hers, and we hung out at the back and talked, drunkenly. Except I hadn't been drinking.

I'm feeling a little disconnected from my NYC circle, though. New Yorkers who are reading: wouldn't this be a great time to drop me a line and let me know how you're doing? Of course it would.

To support a little writing assignment I was doing last week, I bought a copy of Pet Shop Boys' new best-of, PopArt, and have been playing it as a reward for myself: after I've listened to everything I have to listen to for the day, along with a couple of discs from the slush pile and maybe an old favorite something as I cook dinner. Something about it feels like a pleasure I have to earn every time I want to indulge in it. I had somehow convinced myself that they had gone downhill after Discography, which I played senior year of college until my friends were probably tearing their hair out. (Even as I've bought virtually all of their singles...) Wrongo. It's true that they've never since made a full album as great as Introspective (which remains my favorite making-drudgework-pass-quickly album). But this is glorious, glorious, the newer stuff at least as much as the older. Neil Tennant was a pop critic before he was a pop star, and I bet he was the kind who liked to buy a stack of new singles every week, play the same one over and over at home, and try to figure out what exactly made it work. (They've got the best command of intros of any band this side of the Smiths.) I also note that the sequencing plays up the fact that they're a brilliant cover band: disc 1 starts with the Village People's "Go West" played for the poignancy nobody would have guessed was lurking within it, disc 2 ends with West Side Story's "Somewhere" played as a gigantic gay disco anthem like it had never been anything else.

My favorite PSBs song of all, though, totally flew by me for the first few years I heard it--it took Robbie Williams' version to make me realize how good it is. I've been teaching myself to play "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing" on the new guitar. It's about one of Tennant's favorite lyrical themes, the way love can blindside you and turn you into somebody you didn't suspect you were. (The subtext in their version, of course, is about coming out, but Tennant-the-pop-student knows that the more open to an individual performer's or listener's spin a song is, the better it is.) Tennant's such an ironist ("I love you/you pay my rent"--WHAT a line) that his straightforwardness here hits doubly hard: no, he's not the sort of singer or performer who gets to sing a celebratory anthem, but that's the position he's in. And the structure of the song is perfectly joined and tightened: the jubilant downward chord progression from the intro keeps showing up a little bit before the chorus, like it can't wait. Even the bridge ("If people say I'm crazy I tell them that it's true...") starts out acting like it's going to be a bit of a breather before the next verse, and then Tennant gets so excited he starts rattling off the words at the top of the song's buttoned-down range ("denigrate or speculate on what I'm going through..."--the "going through"/"going through" rhyme actually works for once), flips the hook around ("because it isn't the sort of thing I'd normally do!"), and we're off into that opening riff again. (The only way to play the riff, incidentally, is huge vigorous downstrokes--it doesn't work at all otherwise.) So great.

2 Comments

steve said:

Yes about PSB, & about Neil's singing-- any new stuff on that best-of? (Is their Noel Coward cover there? Probably not.) But they'll never do anything as good, all the way through, as Behavior (partly because Behavior didn't have obvious Club Anthems, which PSB fans who aren't me really want).

keith said:

Every mixtape I made in 1997 started with Pulp's "Mis-Shapes" and went right into "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing," which may be the only song I can listen to when utterly depressed that has the slightest chance of changing my mood. Needless to say, when I'm already in a good mood I get catapulted up to sheer ecstasy. Probably it's a wish-fulfillment thing with me--the fantasy that the most wryly self-contained self-conscious ironist can break free into foolishness beyond his control. Or maybe it's just the way the contrast between that ambling, whistling keyboard theme and the insistent double-timed chorus hook.

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This page contains a single entry by Douglas published on January 16, 2004 2:12 AM.

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