Round Up: THE MEN, WHITE LIES and TV ON THE RADIO offshoot HIGGINS WATERPROOF BLACK MAGIC BAND

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Last month was a good month for shows. The thaw happened, our heroes hit the trail yet again. Hail Spring!

Future Islands transformed into megastars and danced before our very eyes at the Rickshaw Theatre (while afterward Samuel treated me to an impromptu rap throwdown),  Temples shrugged, psychedelically, thorough their first-ever visit to Vancouver at the Biltmore, while Messr Stephen Malkmus carted out both Pavement AND Rush songs at his Rickshaw return. My buddies in OFF! absolutely laid waste to Fortune Sound club while Neutral Milk Hotel were greeted like heroes at the Vogue. The NMH show was so, good, in fact, it had me and the boss/Daniel from the TV show Ugly Betty (also Tim on the L Word) making friends and talking about it the next day (Eric is filming his new show Signed, Sealed, Delivered in Vancouver).

But the last half of the month also brought another pack of bruisers, boys and thoroughly decent chaps to town.

Brooklyn’s The Men rocked up at the Electric Owl looking tired from their morning session at Seattle’s KEXP and had to keep to a curfew before some DJ took over the club (I fucking hate that.) Californian tourmates Gun Outfit went on late, cutting into the Men’s short time, but nevermind, it’s the MEN. Basically, even four minutes of the Men is usually four minutes that are better than anything else, because HOLY CRAP! THIS IS SO GOOD!

The Men, pic by Mikala Taylor/backstagerider.com

To start,”Lotus” from earlier album Leave Home hit us in the face like a thrashin’  how-d’you-do and soon enough The Men were playing up the punk at melting speeds. Guitarist/one of three vocalists Ben Greenberg (above) was yet again fascinating to watch: six-plus-foot of fretboard attack, heave and lunge. Fingers fly like tracers up guitar neck. Ever get into your hands, man? No, but I do get into Ben’s.

The Men, pic by Mikala Taylor/backstagerider.com

“Different Days” was an amped-up boozer, standing on the corner of Stoogey 70s and SubPop 90s, while “Pearly Gates” was a frantic blues-rock beast with singer Nick Chiericozzi belting “HEY! LEMME IN!” to kick off one of the BIGGEST songs off their latest and really ace album Tomorrow’s Hits. It’s a maelstrom of horns, swamp boogie, squonk, pounding piano and manic drums (props to Rich Samis – he’s a monster) and that’s what make The Men so great – there’s just so much good going on in their music.

Add the piano in, the three vocalists (Greenberg, Chiericozzi and Mark Perro – below) all tagging in and out, while mushing up genres (Post-punk! 70s American rock! 70s American pop! Neil Young! Thrash! Jonathan Richman! MC5! Sonic Youth!) and you get…one of the best on-record and on-stage acts around. Only wished we’d had more of them; apparently we got robbed of a vicious cover of Devo’s “Gates of Steel” – stupid curfews are stupid. But some Men is better than no Men. Go see ‘em if they come through your town.

The Men, pic by Mikala Taylor/backstagerider.com

Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum, and leaving the grime behind, White Lies. Earnest, hardworking, clean white t-shirt-sleeves rolled up, nice British boys doing perfectly acceptable midsized alternarock.

Returning to Vancouver for the first time in about five years, White Lies were greeted by a sold-out crowed. Last here in 2009 opening up for Friendly Fires I interviewed bassist Charles Cave about the band’s anthemic goth rock. They also told me a lot about what they love about my motherland, in their Top 11 Things We Like About Canada. But it’s been a long time since they’ve come back and the sold out crowd were welcoming on this, the last night of “a very long tour” according to singer Harry McVeigh.

White Lies, pic by Mikala Taylor/backstagerider.com

Anthem “To Lose My Life” started things off, but it was less anthemic than I recall. It was…functional? The THING I have about White Lies is that they could be bigger, better, harder, but there’s an earnestness (that I once, like an asshole, dubbed  the “WLL-E – White Lies Level of Earnestness”) to them that I think holds them back. The songs just sort of roll up to the edge but don’t go over it.

But the THING that everyone else has about White Lies, is that….that’s perfectly okay for them. And it’s probably perfectly fine for White Lies. White Lies are perfectly fine.

The crowd beamed at Harry, bassist/lyricist Charles and drummer Jack (augmented by two sidemen, Rob and Tommy). And the guys beamed back. The songs that stood a little taller were the safe gothy songs that stood out for me the first time around: “Farewell to the Fairground”, “EST”, “Death”, early-history “Unfinished Business” and “Bigger Than Us” (the show closer). Men clasped each other, boyfriends and girlfriends jumped around happily together, some fist-pumping occurred.

What I hadn’t noticed from then, to now, was how really GREAT a bassist Charles Cave has become. He plays studiously, with a complexity you don’t see in most bass players. And it’s one of the things that nudged the band a jot over that edge.

And in the end, it’s not about me. It’s about how everyone else was feeling about their experience, and the faces on the Tuesday crowd were happy. And White Lies were happy. They looked GENUINELY pleased to be ending their tour on such a high note. I will always think White Lies could be better, but I’m glad that they were perfectly AMAZING for other people.

White Lies, pic by Mikala Taylor/backstagerider.com

But one person who is perfectly AMAZING in  my mind, however, is Tunde Adebimpe.

Known as the singer of TV on the Radio, indie film star, artist, director, all-around nice guy, Tunde Adebimpe has steered a ship of edgy, interesting, artsy rock music with TVOTR for years. Live shows are remarkable. Albums are unique.

And for the past 18 months Tunde has had a side project that few of us really know about. It’s called (breathes in to take a deep breath): HIGGINS WATERPROOF BLACK MAGIC BAND. Yeah…no idea either.

For this live show, it’s a stripped down affair for his new outfit, and few people in town have cottoned on to the fact that a guy, THE guy,  ”from TV on the Radio” was in town. So the crowd was tiny. But it WAS welcoming and it was full of love. A perfect, combination, said the band afterwards, for the first night of a short West Coast tour. Later, Adebimpe tells me that he loves these kinds of short tours. It’s a few dates, he says, not enough “to start hating each other” (and you wonder how this is even possible because this a group of really decent chaps: drummer Ryan Sawyer, bassist Josh Werner and guitarist Alex Holden all seem to imminently laid back and likeable.)

Aside from a few really loud talkers (Hey, you, talking loud at gigs? SHUT THE FUCK UP) punctuating it repeatedly, the set was a delicious and mellow groove. “Knocking Ghost” started with Adebimpe studiously manipulating his voice through effect pedals. A pyschedelicky new wave “The Blast, The Bloom” and “Made Lifeline” were other highlights. HWBMB offer a kind of alternative swamp boogie. Some songs loop, some shout out. All songs  were lovely.

Tunde Adebimpe, pic by Mikala Taylor/backstagerider.com

Bassist Werner’s reggae-style bassline rang clear over the chuffing churn of “Hugh Beaumont Is Dead”, while Adebimpe continued to twist that voice through his fingers. It was more restrained than TVOTRing, but that’s cool too. It just made those moments when he did get lost, the moments when his hand and arm would shoot out, swatting away the devils, so much better.

Tunde Adebimpe, pic by Mikala Taylor/backstagerider.com

Afterwards, Adebimpe and I talked about his move from Brooklyn to LA (he’s also working on another film) “It’s still in process. See these grey hairs?” he points to his more-bushy beard. “That’s what moving will do to you.”  He also sorta-promised  more TVOTR stuff at the end of year….”maybe?”

So they worked their Black Magic, those Higgins folk. It’s good that there’s so much amazing in the world. Next time you should be there to see it. \m/

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