Friday Night: Art Brut at the Echo

Friday Night: Art Brut, the Blood Arm at the Echo, Los Angeles; June 19, 2009.

Better than: Listening to the bands Art Brut (playfully) criticized during their set (The Killers, Kings of Leon, U2).

Best perk: Freebie show posters given out after the show, with Morrissey, Charles Manson, Alfred E. Neuman and Dick Tracy on them! What a crew! (They also threw out condoms to the crowd, but I didn't get any. Literally.)

I wasn't planning on reviewing this show. I didn't even get on any guest lists or receive any review passes–I just walked up and bought a $15 ticket like everyone else. It wasn't even in Orange County (though it made me think about Orange County–a lot). But it was so (as weird as this will sound) moving that I felt like I had to write something, y'know?

Yeah, Art Brut are unabashed goofballs, just take a look at lead singer Eddie Argos, with those bushy eyebrows, slightly paunchy physique, tendency to change lyrics in concert and tell long, rambling stories about comic books or visiting art galleries–not to mention the fact that, by his own admission, he can't really sing. But that doesn't mean that the “art wave” (ugh) band isn't capable of making some strong statements.

The most meaningful (really!) moment came during “Slap Dash for No Cash,” a track off their third LP, Art Brut vs. Satan, which came out this past spring. The song contains lyrics like “Why would you want to sound like U2?” and “I love the sound of background noise. I wanna hear the crack in the singer's voice.” Towards the end, Argos repeated “My sex is on fire?” and “Are we human or are we dancer?” in a disgusted tone, adding “I don't need to tell you what's wrong with those bands” (Kings of Leon and the Killers, for those living in a sheltered-from-generic music environment).

Basically, it amounted to a revelation of sorts from me: he's talking about so many Orange County bands. Well, not directly, natch, but in general. There are quite a few bands here, who, in the tradition of the Killers and Kings of Leon, can write some catchy, pleasant songs, but ultimately aren't doing anything especially memorable. Like the speculation by Argos that so many bands are trying to sound like U2, it seems that a lot of bands here (I won't mention any names…yet) attempt to replicate a successful sound or style, that may yield them short-term commercial success (and good for them, seriously), but don't necessarily have anything to say and aren't producing anything that will really be remembered years from now in the annals of music. Is success making money while not adding anything especially new or exciting to the world? Of course, there are plenty of bands here that aren't in that category, and I'm sure every local “scene” has the types of acts I'm talking about–it's nothing too endemic to here.

If you look at Art Brut, they're not polished, they're not on the radio (nor do they sound like anything on the radio), but they've got more cred and acclaim that most local bands will ever achieve. Plus, they seem really happy and have a ton of fun. And isn't that what's really important? (Yes?)

The rest of the show was a typical Art Brut show, which is to say incredibly heartable. They did plenty of songs from the new album (“Alcoholics Unanimous,” “DC Comics and Chocolate MIlkshake”), and a ton from their debut Bang Bang Rock and Roll (the title track, “Emily Kane,” “Good Weekend,” “Formed a Band,” “Moving to LA”). Not to mention the usual flourishes like tagging the chorus of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” at the end of “Emily Kane” and “Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now” during the “Summer Job” coda. It was about an hour and a half of good vibes. Yay.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Did you see all those Smiths references up there?

Random Detail: Argos got into the crowd for a little spoken word digression on Van Gough during “Modern Art.” Look at how close I was to him!

By the Way: Eddie Argos really likes public transportation. Another reason to like him.

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