Live Review: The Narrator, Double Door, 5/27/07
When you’re attending a show by a band that writes as many wiseass anthems as The Narrator does, twenty-something hipsters ironically wearing trucker hats and second-hand t-shirts is as inevitable as mortality and annual payments to the government. One shirt, in particular, stuck out to me. It said the following: “Genius by birth, lazy by choice.”
All That To The Wall, the new album from up-and-coming band The Narrator, is the sound of that t-shirt slogan as a rally cry. Whether that’s intentional or not is one thing. But what is truly certain is that, both live and on record, The Narrator articulate the woes and tribulations of people who are others see as working beneath their potential, but who see themselves as not quite ready to sell their ideals out to the adult world yet.
The Narrator’s set for Flameshovel’s Memorial Day showcase at the Double Door emphasized the more upbeat cuts from Wall and, as a result, the band effectively contrasted the slacker malaise of their lyrics with an energetic, crowd-pleasing performance. Album highlights such as “Surfjew” and “Son of the Son of the Kiss of Death” were upbeat and catchy, with the latter’s twin-guitar attack recalling fellow Chicago band Chin Up Chin Up’s work on This Harness Can’t Ride Anything.
The band’s lighting helped emphasized the tension between the band’s lackadaisical sarcasm and its tight, rhythmical attack, as the stage was bathed in strong reds and laid-back blues. Other times, the music itself was provided served as the juxtaposition for the band’s ethos, as songs that started out slow, ambient and feedback-laden would suddenly switch to double-time and come ragingly back to life. It’s as if the band had just woken up from an afternoon nap and then proceeded to accomplish a day’s worth of tasks in ten minutes.
That quality, along with the fact that the band’s music can be highly energetic and charming (in spite of whatever doubts and reservations about mid-20s life that are expressed), is what The Narrator has in common with legendary groups like Pavement (to whom they are strongly indebted) and Dinosaur Jr. (to whom they bear zero sonic resemblance). Most of the band’s likeability, though, comes from their stage patter, as singers Sam Axelrod and Jesse Woghin joked about winning a Grammy, told the audience in mock-reassurance that there was no pressure to smoke that night, and introduced their cover of Bob Dylan’s “All The Tired Horses” as U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
It was that set closing number which showed the band’s capacity for being both sincere and sarcastic simultaneously. The Narrator invited audience members to come up on stage to sing along with them, and then dropped down one of those sparkling disco balls you saw at your junior prom. The moment may have meant to been ironic, but ended up as a great sing-a-long for the audience and a sweet way to have ended the set. If it’s true that by scratching a cynic, you’ll actually find a disappointed idealist, then The Narrator’s set last Sunday at the Double Door was like slacker aloe for the fresh wounds of adulthood.
Following The Narrator were fellow Flamshovel labelmates Bound Stems and Russian Circles. With regard to the art-pop (think Deerhoof or The Fiery Furnaces) of the Bound Stems, I can’t help but think of their music as simultaneously hearing two songs separated by a common melody. The band’s creative hodgepodge included such diverse elements as quirky boy-girl harmonies; folksy acoustic-guitar; classic pop chord progressions; ska-influenced bass lines; and finally, polyrhythmic drums. Here’s a group with a definite case of musical ADD. Luckily, the songs were always melodious, even a bit melancholy at times, but sweet merciful crap, they were hard to follow. The band’s Franken-pop was the sound of permanent transition. I stopped keeping track of the stylistic changes after a while, but I also vowed to spend more time with the band’s work.
Russian Circles then closed the evening with their brand of instrumental post-metal. The band’s guitar riffs crunched like a captain, and the snare hits of the drums blasted out like a gunshot. Songs started out quietly, with an eerie, cryptic guitar line straight out of Metallica’s Cliff Burton-era catalog segueing into a jabbing, riffy distorted guitar. The twin guitar-play was masterful, and, at its best, the music of Russian Circles approached cinematic proportions. The Russian Circles proved themselves to be the true masters of the Metalocalypse.
This article has been cross-published at Yerp Magazine.