Thursday, April 26, 2007

Live Review: Art Brut, Subterranean, 4/20, Chicago, IL

(Eddie Argos)

(Photo by Autumn Notter)

Even though Art Brut's song "Bad Weekend" contains the lyric/rallying cry "popular/ culture/no longer/applies to me," if the UK band continues to give performances as funny, charming and hard-rocking as they did last Friday at Chicago's Subterranean club, they will end up becoming popular culture. Surely, that will be some kind of glorious, and ironic, head-trip.

The band, led by the slyly self-deprecating singer Eddie Argos, played a confident set which was about half of the still wonderful, still funny songs off of Bang Bang Rock and Roll and half new material from the forthcoming It's A Bit Complicated .

Art Brut played in front of an engaged and captivated audience, and the band responded well to the crowd's energy, even playfully toying with hecklers. New material like the opener "Pump Up The Volume," where Argos wonders how he can tactfully break away from a kiss to turn up the radio (he doesn't) stood out from the old by being more melodic, more midtempo, and having a more grown-up prospective than the songs on Bang Bang Rock and Roll.

The punk edge that made "Formed a Band" and "Modern Art" so thrilling has been tamed a bit. The new songs seemed more cautious, less aggressive and contained less of the puppy dog enthusiasm that gave the first album so much of its charm. The wit remains, and it's not as if the band has totally lost its punch - another new song, "Direct Hit," saw to it to provide the joyful rock that the band is known for.

If anything, seeing the band live allows the listener to gain an keen insight into the band, and one that proves the UK group cannot be dismissed as an ironic piss-take. The insight gained is that the band is absolutely sincere about being tongue-in-cheek. Or, perhaps more accurately, that Art Bryt use tongue-in-cheek to make sincere points about things like adolescent love and obsessive fandom.

It is the band's sincerity that makes them so personable love, and Eddie Argos lead his band by cheerfully exclaiming "Go Art Brut! Go!" or by telling the audience to stop listening to people in bands because, with the exception of The Hold Steady and Mountain Goats, they are all full of shit.

That very well may be the case. However, when being full of shit involves tagging "You Sexy Thing" onto "Rusted Guns of Milan," (which is delightfully sick when you think about it), or jumping up and down in the crowd for "Modern Art" (my favorite moment in the concert came when Argos delivered the line "So I'm in the Pompidou/that's in Paris" by pointing to an audience member like a teacher delivering a stern lecture), then I think I'll keep listening anyway.

If the songs performed from It's A Bit Complicated can stand up against the likes of "Emily Kane," "Good Weekend" and "Moving To L.A" (and new songs like "Nag Nag Nag Nag" and "Late Sunday" absolutely do), then Art Brut are going to have to tell a lot more people that they're full of shit.

Of course, because Art Brut are such magnetic performers and terrific songwriters, no one is going to believe them. But we can certainly be charmed by the effort to convince us otherwise. Watching their performance last Friday, I know that I was charmed, and I know that many other people will be the next time Art Brut will hit the stage. Which, if It's A Bit Complicatedis a hit, will be a lot sooner, and for a lot bigger audience, than you think.

(Jonathan Graef)

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