THE DIVINE COMEDY/RICHARD SWIFT
THE DETROIT BAR
WEDNESDAY, JAN. 29
"He's beautiful!" "He's Irish!" "He has a child!"
These were one woman's chaste and breathless descriptions of Neil Hannon, singer/songwriter for the Divine Comedy. And it was contagious. Obviously the twenty- and thirtysomething women in the audience were playing a fantasy husband derby as they crowded the stage, danced deliriously and shouted back the lyrics to Hannon's songs. It was hard to hate Divine Comedy because these career girls (and a lot of boys) were having such a fun time with their very safe idol and his three-piece band (someone actually tossed a box of teabags onstage, of all things; isn't it an ironclad rule to throw lacy panties at lead singers?).
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Divine Comedy has built a cult following in England largely due to Hannon's sometimes-campy, sometimes-overproduced (yet always mod, mod, mod) '60s tunes. On this night, though, it often felt like they were playing axed songs from Austin Powers movie soundtracks—all horrible teeth and snappy pop hooks, only a heartbeat or two removed from hoary old English music-hall tunes. Things got worse—I half expected Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke to come out and tap-dance during one of the piano flourishes on "Frog Princess." And then they played an unironic cover of the Monkees' "Daydream Believer." Oh, behave, Neil, behave! Or at least loosen up a little. Or a lot.
The show started with a spectacular set by a guy named Richard Swift, who can only be described as an anti-idol. The Long Beach gent's body is short and squat, his head is covered by a disaster masquerading as a haircut, and his thrift-shop suits are eternally shunned from being called anything remotely resembling stylish.
But none of this gets in the way of his amazing music. Alternating between keyboards and guitar, Swift played cabaret rock tunes with bittersweet lyrics and even more bittersweet pop—the best sonic blend with which to mull over unrequited love, a beer and whisky chaser of warm humanity laced with acidic barbs. With his beautiful, clear and soulful voice, Swift's kind of how Randy Newman would've turned out had Newman ever made good on his hype. Swift should actually be riding high on some hype of his own soon. The 25-year-old recently had meetings with music moguls Gary Gersh and V2's Jon Sidel to talk about a major-label release—a good thing because he needs to be spun on stereos around the planet. But let's hope he's all ours for a little while longer. (Andrew Asch)
ALEX'S BAR, LONG BEACH
MONDAY, FEB. 3
To Alex's Bar, new locale for Steve Zepeda's New Music Mondays, and the room's luxurious, ruby-red walls, the juxtapositioning Jesus/Satan portraiture behind the bar, the bizarre nekkid-lady paintings and plush, sparkly upholstery—sorta like the banana seat of our old '70s Schwinn. After the final strains of "I'm So Bored With the USA" echoed out of the juke (but before we made small talk with the John Wilkes Kissing Booth's Derrick Brown, who's about to leave for a three-month cross-country poetry tour, doing it up punk rock-style in a freakin' van), we sat behind the pool table and waited for Fielding, a band we happened upon a couple of months previous at a Bong Leach party. All we remembered was that we liked them; we were there that night as invited scenesters, not critics, so we had no notes to fall back on. But was this, indeed, the same band? Had we been too shnockered back then to remember what they were like? We weren't so sure during their first song, which was rather wimpy and unimpressive. Was this an entirely different Fielding? Ah, but their second tune was a winner, a bit thicker and ornery (a neat trick, since it was, at heart, a waltz), and once the piano chimed in, we knew this was indeed the same band. They gallivanted onward, popping off excellent guitar riffs, sad-then-happy-then-sad little hooks, the occasional epic sweep of a piano (loud enough to muffle the rambunctious ogres bellowing "heavy metal!" at the bar—yo, dude, we remember our first beer, too!), sweet violin strains which weren't nearly as long as we would've liked, and a grandiose number about Catalina sinking into the sea. And through it all, the five Fieldings managed to conquer the mortal enemy of weeknight bar bands the globe over: the Microphone That Smells of Poo. Columbia? Bah! Fielding are the true American heroes. (Rich Kane)