Live at Cook’s Café, March 23rd
Despite the fact that I hadn’t been to a concert in years, due to the exorbitant prices most large-scale bands command these days, and the fact that there isn’t too much in the way of original local bands in the Waterbury, Conn. area, I took a trip to Cook’s Café in Naugatuck (a place so hidden away that it’s nearly impossible to find) last night to catch recent discovery and newfound friends, The Suicide Dolls, who have a big following in their native city, New London, as well as Northhampton, Mass. (where they’ll be playing this evening). It turned out to be an amazing night of live music – even more than I was expecting. Three bands, and they were all amazing in their own unique way.
Last night was their first time playing in the Waterbury area, and they were guests of a band called Twin Berlin, from Boston, who I had not heard of before and who were celebrating the release of their brand new 3-song EP, There Goes My Virtue.
First on the bill, though, was another band unknown to me – Black Nash. They tore into their opening number, “Guttermouth,” with a tightly controlled intensity that had the small crowd immediately paying attention. Lead singer Peter Sierks, who looks unassuming at first, has an interesting stage presence. His delivery combines the nervous, awkward energy of David Byrne with the coiled intensity and pigeon-toed stance of a young Elvis Costello. He kept tugging at his shirt, running his hand down the side of his leg and grabbing his neck, as if he was about to jump out of his skin. He looked like he had a million thoughts and emotions running through his mind and was trying to release them all at once. In between songs, he kept repeating the name of the group like a mantra. There was a brooding, mysterious quality to his performance. The band had a great sound behind him that they really brought to a climax with their final song (“Vac Ballad,” if I’m not mistaken), which started off slow and simple and continued to grow in intensity, finally dissolving into a sheet of controlled chaotic white noise. Then, in the blink of an eye, they were gone. Sierks looked like he was emotionally spent.
Listening to their studio recordings, the band come across a bit more arty and precious, which is not meant as a bad thing. The nuances of their songs, and what Sierks is singing about, come across more clearly in the studio. “Bloom Love” has a strange but interesting guitar ostinato that sounds like nobody else (Vampire Weekend comes to mind, but only vaguely). In concert, “Bloom Love” comes across more forcefully, as do most of their songs. They are a hard band to pin down as far as style and influences, but their diversity is what makes them interesting. Whether listening to them in concert or on their recordings, though, Black Nash are definitely a band to keep an eye on.
Next up were the headliners of the evening, Twin Berlin, who for some reason allowed The Suicide Dolls to go on last. From the moment they took the stage, the crowd was up and dancing, with Twin Berlin playing with passion and energy. Their studio recordings, especially their first couple of efforts, show off a heavy Strokes influence, with lead singer, guitarist and songwriter Matt Lopez sounding almost like a dead ringer for Julian Casablancas. The songs are quite memorable, with a tightly constructed feel to them. In concert, the Strokes influence is not as strong and they play with more of a raw, garage-rock feel. They killed with every song, including a great cover of Billy Idol’s classic 80s hit “Rebel Yell,” that I think would have made him proud.
The new EP release, There Goes My Virtue, produced by Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker (the band were winners in the Guitar Center Presents Your Next Record program), and with cool artwork by the late Mikey Welsh, former bassist with Weezer, shows the band moving in a slightly different direction. “Can’t Take, Take, Take,” which they did a great live version of, is a definite winner, as are the other two songs, “Don’t Hang Around” and “Give Up on Me.”
Twin Berlin, who were nominated in 2009 by MTV as the Best Breakout Boston band, and who have seen interest from Boston’s biggest indie radio station, WFNX, will hopefully break as big as The Strokes. They’ve got the songs and the talent.
Last, but not least, The Suicide Dolls took the stage. Unfortunately though, due to their being unfamiliar to the area, most of the crowd had already thinned out. It was the audience’s loss though. The Dolls’ performance was amazing and ended the night on a high note.
The band were without their regular drummer Matt Covey (who will be back for this evening’s gig), but young and talented replacement Ben LaRose was an absolute monster on the kit, bringing an extreme intensity and unbridled energy to their songs – and let it be known that these are songs that are pretty intense to begin with. He was on fire every second of the performance, with sweat pouring off of him in every direction, and played like there was a stadium full of people. It was hard not to stare at him in amazement, and even harder to believe that this was only his second gig with the band. (I look forward to seeing them again in concert when Covey is drumming, to compare the difference between his and LaRose’s styles)
In contrast, leaders Brian Albano and Michelle Montavon were calm but determined in their performances, and just as amazing in their own unassuming way.Albanosings and plays guitar with intense concentration – like he’s simply transfixed in the moment. Montavon’s bass lines came across more pronounced in concert than they do on record (perhaps the only minor complaint of their album) and show her to be a very accomplished bassist. She also has a cool visual style to her.
Every song they played was a winner, especially “Eye” and “Pretty Lie,” and they ended the evening with drumsticks flying – one almost hitting me in the head. Inotherwords, a great time was had by all. This was simply a band firing on all cylinders.
It’s too bad that this area of the state doesn’t have the musical scene thatNew Londonhas, or the Dolls would surely gain a steady following before long. There might not have been many people left in the bar to hear their performance last night (mostly members of the other two bands), but I doubt anyone will be able to forget them any time soon.
By the way, the Dolls’ recent debut album, Prayers in Parking Lots, is a remarkable first effort, which I strongly advise you to go to their website and purchase. Anyone with a passing interest in The Pixies or Sonic Youth will find much to admire on this memorable album. In concert, they lost some of the nuances of their recorded performances (for instance,Albano’s excellent guitar lines), but they more than made up for it with their energy and passionate delivery.
Lastly, I want to thank Brian and Michelle for their shout-out to yours truly during the show. That was definitely cool and much appreciated.