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THEY’RE NO ZEROES

Seeing these downtown-dive denizens onstage at Radio City may seem fish-out-of-watery. (Best way to get Budweiser out of red velvet, anyone?) Nonetheless, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ uptown move is a promotion entirely justified by the big-room theatrics of this spring’s terrific It’s Blitz!, on which Nick Zinner trades his guitar for a synth, Karen O sings more emotionally than she ever has, and Brian Chase drives the sleek electro-rock grooves like he’s auditioning to be in Chic. The hallmark of any Yeah Yeah Yeahs show has historically been its promise of catharsis through chaos; you’ll leave sweatier than you arrived, but more contentedly, too. The new songs are knottier and more complicated than the band’s old ones, and therefore offer less release. If you think that spells concession, pay attention tonight.

Wed., Sept. 23, 8 p.m., 2009

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The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Bowery Ballroom Blitz

In July 2007, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman, capping the night with “Down Boy,” from their then-current EP, Is Is. “Down Boy” is a dark, sultry song, and the band’s singer, Karen O, swayed in place with odd, theatrical movements, unable to keep a lipsticked grin from breaking across her face. When the band finished, Letterman took the stage to thank them, gave Karen O’s hand a courtly kiss, kept hold of it throughout his sign-off, and, as the credits rolled, gazed at her as if about to offer to carry her books.

Karen O(rzolek) is, of course, not the first rock star to be crushed on so intensely, but infatuation informed and sometimes devoured the critical reaction to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in their early years. Any rock band with a chick in it, let alone a chick with Orzolek’s theatricality and NYC-trashy sense of sex—in 2002, majorly hyped, the YYYs were nevertheless more famous for the beer baths she took onstage than for the 13-minute self-titled EP that was then their only recording—is going to have trouble escaping the nominative ghetto of Chicks Who Rock.

This wasn’t the band’s only extramusical problem. From the first sickly chord of their bad-sex anthem “Bang!” to more than half of 2003’s debut full-length Fever to Tell, the YYYs were saddled with a concept: Their songs were jolts of the kind of tinny, fuzzy, raucous New York City smut that was, at the time, Saving Rock and Roll (Again), and their live show was the best hypersexualized theater of the year. But as good as the YYYs were at channeling the hedonism of their hometown forebears, they were, back then, a kind of very advanced novelty band, writing and playing very advanced novelty songs—that is, songs that came loaded with nostalgia for when rock ‘n’ roll really was sleazy and frightening, back before “Sleazy and Frightening” was just one of the lifestyle sets advertised on television.

For a while, the trio’s peak was “Maps,” the chiming track toward the end of Fever to Tell, wherein Karen O suddenly dropped the ravaging-colossus act, looked you straight in the ear, and sang, “They don’t love you like I love you” 13 times. (Orzolek has always written mantras: She turned her first chorus—”As a fuck, son, you suck”—into an incantation.) “Maps” was melancholy and obsessive, a comedown, the sound of a party girl walking home. It was a great song. There was a video. Karen O cried in it. It was successful. I once saw it playing on a TV in an American Eagle outlet.

The trouble was finding a voice to encompass both the parties and the comedowns. The YYYs struggled with this for awhile; this week, they succeed. Their 2006 follow-up, the messy, lovely Show Your Bones, charged into the problem and fell short of being a great album, but It’s Blitz!, their third LP, finds a fusion between the self-conscious rock ‘n’ roll bravado of “Bang!” and the visceral melancholy of “Maps”—between Karen O as frightening, sexy put-on artist and Karen O as vulnerable, aching city girl. Both those personas are clichés, which is why Blitz‘s mix—a stew of the scary and the funny and the cocky and the sad—improves on Show Your Bones, which laid those poses out like vitamins to be swallowed in order.

I’m gonna try and get at this record’s achievement the long way. In the video for the Blitz single “Zero,” Karen O dolls herself up for a show that doesn’t happen. Instead, she and her bandmates wander playfully through empty San Francisco streets, doing standard music-video things—dancing on cars, pushing each other around in shopping carts, suddenly performing (with all their gear) in deserted convenience stores, etc.—a context in which Karen O’s makeup and snakeskin boots and studded leather jacket with “KO” on the back look less awe-inspiring and Olympian than just silly. They also look really cool—cool in a human way that has no place on Olympus. Thus, what might be a gimmick becomes a public game of dress-up, the kind you play when you’re confident and just a little proud.

All this matters because this is how the YYYs perform: with confidence, pride, playfulness, and originality. Nick Zinner and Brian Chase are as indebted to their influences as Orzolek, as fond of aping them, and as capable of transcending them. Zinner’s guitar, in 2002 an instrument of tinny, sawing New York Dolls bliss, has, over the years, been artfully subtracted, so that now it might appear only as an insistent ghost on “Little Shadow” or “Skeletons”; Chase’s drums are always restless, curious things, not so much leading the songs as turning every stone inside them. Blitz is heavier with synths than its predecessors: They burble above the stomp of “Zero,” pulse gently within the loose “Soft Shock,” and go chirpy but ominous (like an eight-bit Nintendo dungeon) for “Dragon Queen.” Rarely (maybe in “Zero,” whose synths are hard to fight) do the musicians vanish beneath their new lacquer, and never, even as they cede her the center, are Zinner and Chase reduced to Karen O’s backup.

Instead, all three members of this band achieve something tricky: They use sonics to sculpt personality. Zinner and Chase are always, somewhere, audible, and the tangible, charismatic, joyfully muddled woman at the center of It’s Blitz! isn’t revealed to us through the record’s lyrics, which are as gnomic as ever, but through attitudes, tones, put-on sneers, and audible grins. It’s the delight she takes in briefly fronting a menacing dance-punk outfit on “Heads Will Roll”; the meditative bliss with which she and her bandmates unveil the tonescape “Skeletons” (in which Chase does something close to a five-minute drumroll); and, best of all, the delicate delivery of this record’s best mantra—the moment on “Hysteric” when Karen O, swaying inside the stutter of Chase’s drums, repeatedly coos, “You suddenly complete me.” In moments like that, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs define themselves, not by shedding affectations, but by combining them. I’m as smitten as Letterman.

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THE JOY IN KAREN O

As soon as Karen O, lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, arrived on the Brooklyn scene, it wasn’t just her rebel yell that had us mesmerized but also her rainbow-collaged wardrobe that left us awestruck at every show. From space-age frocks to glow-in-the-dark Predator-esque jumpsuits, Karen O’s fashion sense can be attributed to designer Christian Joy. In her first solo exhibition, The Visitors Must Be Amused, Joy, who’s been designing for the past nine years, asked her family and friends (including Ms. O) to write a description of a female being. The result is a specifically designed costume representing each definition, including one of an alien goddess gown with a whip. Yeah, that’s a pretty accurate representation of what it’s like to be a woman.

March 1-8, 2009

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YEAH YEAH NICK

Rock-and-roll antics are meant to be captured. And who better to snap and shoot the oh-so-glamorous adventures of life on the road than Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner? For his latest exhibition, It’s OK, Don’t Look Down, the svelte gothboy (who already has three photo books under his belt, including the latest I Hope You Are All Happy Now) exposes what it’s like to be in a rock band, from shots of adoring fans to the not-so-glamorous aspects like a broken-down tour bus and lonely hotel rooms. Does this sound like a series “free of rock ’n’ roll cliché,” as Fuse Gallery proclaims? We think not. Nevertheless, the images offer a fun window into the YYYs world, especially those shots of Karen O, who, in one, appears as just two legs decked out in ripped purple fishnets and red shoes. Well, who else’s legs could they be?

Aug. 29-Sept. 19, 2008

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Swing and a Miss

Strike one: It’s 4 a.m. on Tuesday, and all the neighborhood bars are closed. We buy beer and smokes at the bodega and head to the rooftop patio of our new acquaintances—really new, as my friend and I met the two of them on the sidewalk outside the last bar about 15 minutes ago. My friend is less concerned about her missing wallet now than she will be tomorrow when her company credit card’s theft protection is activated and she receives a phone call regarding a large purchase at a local drugstore. It goes without saying that neither of us is concerned about entering the home of two boys we’ve just met because, as I said, it’s 4 a.m. on a Tuesday, and all the neighborhood bars are closed.

The night had started early, at a Nolita cocktail party for Lacoste hosted by Pam Bristow and Matt Goias, the couple behind the Class Trip Corporation, in a humid restaurant full of fashionable strangers. Turns out that’s the actual recipe for sangria; in an hour, I’d racked up enough empties to fulfill the needs of a wedding registry. So by the time I’d made it back to Brooklyn to find myself in the current situation, seated around a table with four people who were pretty blitzed, I wasn’t surprised that the conversation wasn’t terribly animated. What I was surprised by was that it didn’t include my friend or me. These guys spent an hour arguing about what their hypothetical band should sound like—one they haven’t formed yet. I mean it, an hour of huddling over a laptop drawing references from Beach House to Suicide. And when I did pipe up to offer an opinion on Papercuts, I was met with this: “What are you, some kind of music snob?” Right. Seen and not heard. Forgot.

Strike two: Fuse Gallery is the in-house art space that inhabits the back room of Lit Lounge, the seedy East Village home of dirty style stars who make the trek from Williamsburg. Before last weekend, I’d only been to one other opening there—it was last September, for Cheryl Dunn, whom I sat next to at a dinner party a couple weeks before that and who seriously has the prettiest skin of all time. (She glows—no kidding.) Anyway, so I went on Saturday night for Nick Zinner’s show, It’s OK, Don’t Look at the Road, a collection of photos snapped while on tour with his band, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Press information had promised “moments detached from context and free of rock n’ roll cliché,” and images that reflect “modest and sincere vignettes of life on the road.”

How, then, to explain stage shots of excitable crowds in Melbourne, Tokyo, and Munich? (And one less-than-excitable crowd in my beloved Kansas City, titled “Kansas Crowd.” It’s actually at a club in Missouri.) “I have become more fascinated with the ambiguity of an image,” Zinner is quoted as saying. “If you remove the facts and the dates and are just left with the image, that image to me is strongest, when each viewer can attach their own meaning to it.” But if you remove the facts and dates of these pics—what country they were taken in, what year, what performer was playing, whatever—the photograph’s audience still knows they’re looking at some band’s audience, and that given the audience members’ ages and styles of dress, etc., it’s probably a rock band. It’s probably in the last few years. They’re probably totally psyched to be there. That’s not exactly attaching my own meaning. That’s just kind of . . . obvious.

I’m not saying Zinner’s a shit photographer—he’s even published three books, the latest by St. Martin’s Press (I Hope You Are All Happy Now). Composition is good; color is interesting. I even like the bed series: 164 four-inch-by-six-inch shots of empty, slept-in beds—that actually does make me feel a little lonely, as I assume it can feel on the road. (It also makes me think about how easy it is to get someone to sleep in that big lonely bed with you when you’re a touring musician with a hot band.) But pretending to erase the context of being the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ bassist while presenting these photos? Rings a little false.

(It’s OK . . . runs through September 13; see fusegallerynyc.com for information.)

Strike three: Listening to (and liking) recordings but being disappointed by the live act is nothing groundbreaking, and too-early buzz has dashed the dreams of more than one band. But I can’t believe how bad Amazing Baby was at Union Pool last Saturday night.

Their moody, woozy space rock has merited copy in Spin and The Fader, and Mark Ronson featured the band on his East Village Radio show last month (download three of their songs at RCRDLBL.com). Additionally, while they’ve got to be sick to death of it, they also have the cachet of the summer: an MGMT connection (they’re buddies, and supposedly MGMT stole their drummer). But more than that, “Head Dress” is just a great song. “Pump Your Brakes” is good fun as well.

It comes down to this: If you want to play up your psych image live and be all weird onstage, by all means—you’re goddamn performers and it’s your right. But not if you can’t pull it off. Lose the pitchy back-up singers, who are darling but totally fuck with your sound. Spread out—you’re too close together, and it’s mangling those pretty guitar swells. And I know it isn’t fair, but your frontman is way too attractive to be that affected. Only sexy-uglies can get away with crouching at the mic while shaking a maraca, swatting the air to an invisible beat, and grinning maniacally in general. That’s just how it goes. Unless he wants to turn back into a frog, he’s gotta knock that shit off.

So, for this week at least, they’re out—I’m officially over band boys.

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‘Kill Your Idols’

For two-thirds of its brief length, Scott Crary’s Kill Your Idols is content to competently survey the past three decades of downtown avant-rock, from Suicide and the No Wave explosion through Sonic Youth and the Swans all the way up to contemporary bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Liars. But after about 45 minutes, the movie turns into something more like Kill Your Bastard Children, with No Wavers like Lydia Lunch opining vociferously against the current scene’s fashion-conscious posing and fundamentally derivative nature (“what a pandering bunch of postpunk pop mama’s boys”). While clearly not without merit, such complaints would be more interesting if we were allowed to know who exactly was being ripped; instead, Kill Your Idols pulls a few punches, tempering its respect for No Wave values like extremity and contentiousness with a more 2006 concern for not actually offending anyone in particular. The more sweeping “death of rock” pronouncements are rendered ridiculous by the inclusion among the interviewees of vital young artists like Eugene Hütz of Gypsy-punkers Gogol Bordello, but DNA’s Arto Lindsay gets at the essence of what’s changed over 25 years, noting sympathetically that “we didn’t have a whole industry selling us back to ourselves.”

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Siren Song

Siren fans, bless their little hearts, are a dedicated bunch. They show up at 11 a.m. to claim a spot, and wait patiently until two hours later when the bands begin. Last year when I DJ’d, I noticed two guys in particular who seemed like they’d been planted in the ground. They were cool, calm, and collected, and didn’t so much as blink (occasionally they applauded). I don’t think they peed the entire day.

I half expected to see them standing there this year when THE PONYS took the stage. (They weren’t.) When you are young, and the event is free, and your favorite bands are playing, you will do just about anything, even if the sun is baking and you can’t move an inch. When you are old and jaded and cranky (me), you stand in the backstage tent, only peeping momentarily at the bands playing to see if you’re missing anything. (I wasn’t, but then, indie rock isn’t my sort of thing anyhoo.) In the V.I.P. tent with the less young-and-jaded music industry folks, you could find mondo fashion designer and Siren regular HEDI SLIMANE (that is, if you knew what he looked like). And while only three of us were excited, most of the music dorks were probably more impressed with the presence of comedian DAVID CROSS. Among the old and jaded backstage was YEAH YEAH YEAHS‘ manager-babysitter ASIF AHMED, who announced brightly that he was moving to L.A. to join KAREN O. I asked him why and he said, “I hate New York.” “Me too!” We high-fived.

Elsewhere backstage, it was business as usual. DJ BAG LADY, a/k/a KERRY DAVIS of the TWO TEARS, in town after a few months in Paris, double-fisted it with two nasty rum-and-Sprite drinks at the ripe time of two in the afternoon. Vice magazine’s GAVIN MCINNES was wearing a sling and an outfit that would have landed him in his own magazine’s “Don’t” pages (a Puerto Rican-flag top, high-water white jeans, and pink Converse sneakers. Yikes). SARAH WILSON had the most unfortunate luck—someone, probably a hipster, stole her cash and took her Vanity Fair ID card out of her wallet while she was backstage. (A friend cracked that someone from Paper magazine was probably jealous). Flyer magazine’s DAN SHUMATE and ex-Flyer publisher HOSI SIMON mingled with DJ KIMYON, who spouted off about the fact that there’s a big party at Crobar for the Republicans during the national convention—as if you didn’t already need a reason to boycott the superclub. (Aren’t overpriced drinks, dull music, and equally dull people enough?)

The other main stage DJ TOMMIE SUN-SHINE—who’s usually more fashionable—could’ve used some help from Slimane. He resembled (take your pick) GRIZZLY ADAMS, JERRY GARCIA, or JESUS H. CHRIST, with a fuzzy beard and shaggy hair. “This is my summer look,” he quipped. Sunshine, who has a post-ravey album in the works, made a boo-boo during TV ON THE RADIO‘s set, when, during a supremely pregnant pause, the DJ figured incorrectly that their set was finished and threw on THE FALL‘s “Totally Wired,” whereupon the band started up again. Whoops. He went up to DAVID ANDREW SITEK to apologize for the mess-up, and Sitek responded that it was no biggie, but that, as a result, he wanted to play Fall songs for the rest of their performance. TV on the Radio seemed to be everyone’s fave—former Siren star NICK ZINNER of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was in the crowd checking them out, and Sunshine called them “the most original band I’ve heard in a while.”

Later, before headliners DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE played the main stage, I ran into MICHIKO SWIGGS of another Seattle-based band, IQU. She relayed the story of how several years ago, when they were still called ICU, they were served a cease-and-desist order while onstage from the Intensive Care Unit. They read the note to the crowd, laughed, and changed their name. After Siren wrapped, I heard about an extremely drunk blonde girl stealing the leftover beer high school-style, loading it into her bag until no more would fit, and then stuffing more bottles under her dress, muttering “Neil won’t care.” She was supposedly on her way to an after-party with HAR MAR SUPERSTAR. Maybe someone shoulda given her a cease-and-desist order. There’s always next year.


tromano@villagevoice.com

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Bootlegger’s Banquet

He’s hunched over the monitors on the sticky black-smeared floors of Siberia, holding his video camera, as vocals and guitars scream out. He lurks in the shadows at the Knitting Factory, hastily gathering footage of the Ex. He’s behind you at the Siren Festival during the Liars’ set, with his lens looming over your shoulder, jumping from left to right between the masses of heads and shoulders. And there he is—that elderly white guy with the knotted and gray Rastafarian dreadlocks, the same ratty green T-shirt and worn pants, and bare feet at Northsix, comfortable and patient with a huge smile on his face as Deerhoof play their gloriously disjointed art-rock and roll.

The man with the cam is Joly MacFie, a 52-year-old English expatriate whose website, punkcast.com, is the well from which NYC TV’s New York Noise, a new weekly program on basic cable available in all five boroughs, draws its riches. The show focuses predominantly on New York bands, and on November 1 the program will air exclusive video footage of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (“Yeah! New York” and “Kiss Kiss”), Ari-Up and the New Crew (“Don’t Say Nothing”), and Oneida (“Privilege”), among others.

MacFie’s been posting bands on his website since 1997, and shooting them himself since 2000. His ubiquitous presence has turned him into a fixture of the indie scene: He’s at practically every show worth the admission price, and his catalog proves it. Punkcast.com boasts hours of digital video footage of local, national, and international touring acts. The site’s impressive show roster either stirs up fond reminiscences or utter regret: the Seconds, UK Subs, Japanther, Agnostic Front, X27, the Hissyfits, Touchdown, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, Khan and Kid Congo, and Kimya Dawson are among many featured artists. He has filmed everywhere from the hippest lofts, spaces, and cafés in Williamsburg (Right Bank, Publick House) to rock clubs—including some (Coney Island High, the Wetlands, Brownies) long gone.

“It’s incredible what you can do with a good digital camera,” MacFie excitedly begins, departing from his usually soft-spoken and quiet English demeanor. “You can take something that would have been mundane and forgotten and turn it into something powerful.”A cynical person might judge MacFie a scheming parasite who lives off other people’s work, or figure he’s simply a hermit with too much time on his hands, hoarding video footage to swap with wire-rimmed college twerps and hipster merch junkies. He’s neither. He doesn’t collect the videos he makes, and he sells them back to bands at a mere $2. (He offers them on his website for $4, and his cost of labor is $1 per video CD.) The truth is he’s a catalyst, a one-man street team. Not to mention just as much of a punk rocker as his video subjects, shirking copyright infringement issues in a time when the recording industry sues 12-year-old girls for using Kazaa. Yet despite this age of digital-piracy crackdowns, MacFie has no worries, and insists that not a single band has copyright issues with him.

Shirley Braha, a senior at Smith College and intern-producer of New York Noise, shares MacFie’s passion. After creating a more “subversive” format (the program was originally titled Big Apple Beats, and was going to air a panorama of New York artists from Frank Sinatra to Fat Joe), she posted on Yahoo’s NYhappenings Web group, (groups.yahoo.com/group/nyhappenings), asking for indie bands to send in videos and show footage. MacFie replied, and Braha visited him at his midtown studio. Her initial skepticism was quashed.

“He showed me Monotrona, Ladybug Transistor, Mazing Vids, Out Hud, Tallboys. I was hooked,” Braha says, beaming. “I was totally impressed with the audio.”

MacFie quietly states, “Basically I make stuff that people can use to show off to their friends and that bands can use as merchandise. My purpose is to take the scene and amplify it.”

With a sardonic expression he continues, “People write me e-mails and ask, ‘Can I trade you?’ I’ve got more stuff I shot than I can possibly process. I don’t need any more stuff; all I need is more hours in a day.”

He also maintains that he cooperates with bands’ wishes if they don’t want him to shoot and sell his videos. But he accepts only one reason: They want to control what represents them, because they consider that part of their art. MacFie says that Lydia Lunch made this argument to him on behalf of Jim Thirlwell of Foetus. Consequently, at a recent Knitting Factory show, MacFie passed on Thirlwell’s new band, Baby Zizanie, and shot opening act the Seconds instead.

“Joly is probably one of the most genuine people in the scene,” says Jeannie Kwon, bassist of the Seconds. “He does what he does out of love for music, not to make money.”

The personal philosophy behind MacFie’s operation is that in the vaporous world of cyberspace, there are a small number of people who upload to a great many people who download. MacFie has cast himself in the role of Uploader Supreme. He cites the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as a prime example of his work’s efficacy. MacFie says that when he shot them at the Mercury Lounge opening for Moldy Peaches, they were ecstatic. Guitarist Nick Zinner put the video up on the band’s website right away. However when MacFie shot them at their “secret” show at Maxwell’s a couple months ago, Zinner asked MacFie to sit on it, which MacFie saw as an acknowledgement of punkcast.com’s clout.

“[Zinner] knows I pick out the new songs and put them up. But he wanted to work [them out] more and have the joy of surprising people himself with them. So I did sit on them.”

MacFie knows about promotion. Back in 1976, he was the impresario of his day as the proprietor of Better Badges, a London-based badge (or button, as we say here) manufacturer and retailer. (His first badge stand was at the Roundhouse in London, on July 4, 1976, where an unknown band called the Ramones was in town to support its eponymous debut album.) Over six years, MacFie’s 150,000-pound-per-year operation pressed and sold 40 million badges. He negotiated cheap prices for printing work with local fanzines, and forged symbiotic relationships with a few struggling local record labels—Mute, Rough Trade, and Factory.

After too many bands and stores reneged on owed money, MacFie sold BB. Now a destitute tax fugitive, he relocated to Los Angeles and worked for a year and a half at Goldenvoice, a concert promotion company, where he put on shows for Social Distortion, the Circle Jerks, the Dead Kennedys, Sisters of Mercy, the Cult, and Einstürzende Neubauten. (These days Goldenvoice promotes the annual All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, Strokes shows, and Simon & Garfunkel concerts.) MacFie then moved to Manhattan in 1985 and revived his badge stand, selling buttons at the Ritz, the Marquee, and Irving Plaza. He also started an online zine, What’s Up, when e-mail first became available. At $1 per message, though, it folded after MacFie skipped out on a bill totaling nearly $600. Then came the short-lived phone-line version of What’s Up, which callers could dial up to hear interviews and scandal. The phone line also closed down due to financial constraints. In 1994, he inherited $20,000, and he later purchased all the video and computer technology that make punkcast.com possible.

“If you go in trying to make money, or with the mentality that you’re going to cash in, you’ll fail,” he says. “But if you go in there and say, ‘I’m going to try and build the scene,’ you’ll be a success.

“My mission is to live and eat and be catalytic really,” MacFie muses. “And that’s it.”


New York Noise airs weekly on Saturday nights at 11 on NYC TV. Check your local listings, or visit nyc.gov/html/nyctv/html/shows_ny_noise.html.

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Saving Grace Under Pressure

With Dillinger Escape Plan tear-assing through topographic oceans, Black Dice casting hardcore nightmares as tangerine dreams, and Mars Volta whipping about at 2,112 mph, the schism betwixt punk and prog seems lately to be a nonissue—as if Johnny Rotten traipsed around with a T-shirt reading “Fine, I Guess Pink Floyd Is OK After All.” But Gold Standard Labs, the indie imprint co-owned by Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, is the bold antithesis to Volta’s labyrinthine concept-rock—a label of spontaneous no-fi noiseniks throwing their art against the wall, seeing if it sticks, and then attempting to fashion careers out of whatever’s left.

Omar, though, likens his own intricate art-rock to the clamorous art-scuzz of GSL bands—detached shrug-punks GoGoGo Airheart, caustic electro minimalists I Am Spoonbender, shuddering dirtballs the Starvations—since they all “put every inch of sweat and passion into what they can be doing.” Then again, maybe both Rush and the Fall liked weird noises and checked out too many library books. It’s hard to tell whether the sturm und clang of GSL’s lab rats is a noise-as-punk art statement or just sonic residue from whatever post-post-punk they’re attempting to (re)create. But fuck it, they’re all immediate and rather convincing.

On one hand, Seattle’s Chromatics used to gig around with one of the Ligeti-lovin’ artfuck Blood Brothers; on the other hand, there’s no evidence their bassist knows how to play. Tones are poked relentlessly; on “Felt Tongue” the shit just rattles off the pickups and into “Skill Fall,” where Chromatics mercifully reverse the whole track.

Unabashed spontaneity lights the GSL Bunsens. The jagged edges of Chrome Rats vs Basement Rutz fight the good punk fight with volume and syncopation (i.e., not volume and speed), like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with no production and a mouthful of throbbing gristle. But unlike the YYYs, Chromatics’ stutter-beats are decidedly unsexy—you can’t fuck to ’em unless your partner is prone to violent and abrupt epilepsy. With a confident aimlessness, the whole affair is brash, audacious, almost arrogantly unpolished.

The Vanishing are more refined, but that doesn’t make the one dude and two sistas of mercy in the GSL goth-dance troupe less impulsive. Songs for Psychotic Children starts and ends with two minutes of fuzz. Of the eight tracks left, the band only bothered writing lyrics for five. Those five are flange-ridden austerity like Christian Death double-timed and remixed by New Order, but singer Jesse Eva will always have braces on her fangs. Goths rarely sound this fun—being goths and all—but the Vanishing’s cobbled riffs are the B-52’s for the Emily the Strange set, dancing this mess into the ground.

The surprisingly danceable “Skin’s Getting Weird,” the lead and title cut on Kill Me Tomorrow’s teaser EP, should be this summer’s “House of Jealous Lovers,” but NYC tastemakers will never face the truth—these San Diego-via-Portland weirdos do the pseudo-genre (i.e., “neo-no-wave”) better than anyone: Phased guitar noise, a “chorus” made up of asymmetrical howling, Birthday Party rubber-room drumming, onomatopoetic grunts as background vocals.

The EP’s cover of Suicide’s “Ghost Rider” is certainly deadly in a post-Alec Empire kind of way, but when drummer-singer Zack Wentz hits “Ghost Rider, motorcycle hero” in perfect Mark E. Smith monotone, it’s devastatingly (and perfectly) tossed-off. Vega’s “America, America is killing its youth” was terrifying—now Kill Me Tomorrow reacts with so-fuckin’-what marblemouth. Twenty-five years from now, after we all glow from nuclear radiation, may some kids sing “Skin’s Getting Weird” with the most heart-wrenching indifference ever put to record.

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My Big O!

It finally happened. No, there wasn’t a revolt by a mob of trucker-hat-wearing Williamsburg trendies upset over a recent New York Times article declaring the hats so, like, over. At the Bar 13 after-party following the Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ second sold-out Irving Plaza gig on May 8, I met my new rock-girl idol Karen O. When I told her about the Donnas wanting to beat me up over my dis that pitted badass Karen O against lame-ass Donna A., Miss O gave a “buck up, li’l camper” speech, which went something along the lines of “you tell it like it is,” “fuck them,” and “we represent!” I was in Punk Rock Goddess heaven.

However, I am not the only one who loves Karen O and the YYY. Marilyn Manson is such a big fan he went to both concerts, and Manson was overheard gushing about guitarist Nick Zinner‘s fret work, wishing he had brought along his own guitar player to watch the new master. We wonder if Zinner might be moonlighting in the near future? On the first night, scary Manson missed most of the show, but was seated in the V.I.P. section near Craig Marks (Blender editor, formerly of Spin), which must’ve been somewhat uncomfortable. Those with memories longer than last week will recall that in 1998 Marks was the victim of a Manson death threat and sued the singer for $24 million; Manson countersued for defamation—they later settled it out of court. The next night Shirley Manson (of Garbage) and Marilyn arrived separately but probably felt compelled—because they are both rock royalty with the same last name—to sit together in the V.I.P. area. It was their first meeting, oddly enough! Shirley came with Rolling Stone editor Joe Levy, leading me to think there’s something about rock stars named Manson and rock critics.

At the real after-party at Pianos on Friday, well-wishers, including ex-Smashing Pumpkin James Iha, gathered to watch a screening of the YYY’s first appearance on national TV, Late Night With Conan O’Brien. Downstairs, a trio dressed in chicken costumes called the Ssion (led by singer Cody, who designed the YYY album art) sing-shouted, while everyone scratched their noggins trying to decide if they were stupid or brilliant, or perhaps, stupidly brilliant.

Potty-mouthed Peaches, who is a bit of both, celebrated her sold-out Bowery show last weekend (with Sonic Youth‘s Kim Gordon, Le Tigre‘s J.D. Samson, and comedienne Marga Gomez watching the spectacle) with two DJ gigs—she played for the dykes at Meow Mix following performances by Cobra Verde and Paradise Island, and, the next night, spun with local jock Aldo at Adult World. The very appropriate secret password? “I want to eat your pussy.”

And, since my ears are burning, baby (well, only one ear, since I’m deaf in the other), I might as well let it blurt. I heard that Jon Spencer surprised the crowd at Maxwell’s on Thursday when he jumped onstage with Nancy Sinatra for a few songs in her father’s hometown of Hoboken—joining her in renditions of “Jackson” and the classic “These Boots Were Made for Walking.”

And the W.I.T. girls—who ditched one retro look (’80s nu-wave) for another retro look (’40s boogie-woogie) in a recent Women’s Wear Daily photo shoot—are the subject of a totally outrageous story: Supposedly, Larry Tee and the girls were headed to Europe last week for their three-and-a-half-week tour, but they missed their flights. The promoter wanted W.I.T. so badly that he put them all on the Concorde so they didn’t miss their gig at Eden in Berlin. (That’s $10,000 per electroclasher, folks.)

I also hear that the kids from !!! and Outhud are starting a party at f^&*cking Pianos called Anywhere Butt Pianos. The name is modeled after the “indie” T-shirts sporting the same slogan, on sale for a mere $88 at ISA. (Doesn’t the price sort of defeat the purpose, y’all? You know, to make social commentary on overpriced, overrated, trendy bars? No? OK.) At least the folks at Pianos have a sense of humor. The Tuesday-night jam will feature DJ Sterling Caller and guests John Pugh and Justin VanderVolgen. They promise a “unicorn derby.” I am not sure what that means. Everything sounds fabu—especially the location. (Sike!)


tromano@villagevoice.com