A Wild Night with OK Go

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Check out my interview with Damian Here!

Sometimes it’s easy to forget about Rock N’ Roll, or what it really means to be Rock N’ Roll. Most people into the genre have probably been influenced by their relatives or idols in some sort of capacity, hearing the stories about seeing Van Morrison so drunk he couldn’t even sing a sensible sentence (which is hard to understand even when he’s sober), or Jimi Hendrix super high on acid playing his guitar with his teeth while he was the still the opening act! By and large, it might be fair to assume most people’s standards have gone up. People don’t care for the circus shows or dysfunctional bands, at least not live. They’d probably rather just hear about it from their uncle, but what happens when they become the uncle? At the time it might seem like a let down, or a waste of money, but those Rock N’ Roll stories need to live on in order for it to survive. And, like the American Express commercial stated- Tickets to a G n’ R concert in the 90’s: $50-$100 bucks, the moment when Axle Rose dives into the crowd to whoop someone’s ass: priceless.

Given this pretense, a band came through San Francisco last night who’s rock roots might have been buried underneath a thick soil that is starting to decease the underbelly of momentous antics in music. The band is OK Go, natives from Chicago who moved to Los Angeles to further their film career. They’re wildly popular for their creative videos and commercials that feature everything from treadmill dancing, dog championing, sophisticated synchronized dancing, musical demolition derbies, giant life sized Rube Goldberg Machines, and lots of paint splattered across their faces. In short, everyone who knows this band has at least two favorite videos they’ve produced. And this, however, is odd. So when OK Go plays live, they might have a bit of a chip on their shoulder.

At a sold out Independent theater, a modest venue in comparison to some they have played in the past, people awaited anxiously while a DJ pranced on stage drinking Jameson from the bottle and playing Nirvana. He even gave swigs to the crowd, which meant he was undoubtedly giving swigs to other band members. He walked off the stage in sunglasses and it was most certainly a glimpse into what was about to happen. OK Go exploded through the stage as giant robots, all running on hamster wheels while playing their instruments on fire and eating burritos while hoola hooping!

No, that didn’t happen, but people probably expected it. The problem with being so ambitious is that people won’t just accept you for who you are. People want you to literally explode their brains. So how does one deal with this type of pressure? You get drunk. Hey, what did the lead singer Damian Kulash and I have in common? We were both probably pretty drunk. But in any case, it gave him the right to do or say whatever he damned well please, and it was actually sort of awesome.

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Most other reviews I would have divulged the hit songs they played that had the crowd roaring, but for the most part the crowd was in a sort of paralysis the entire time, stuck somewhere between awe and disappointment, not knowing whether this was a joke, a silly antic, or if they were going to be part of a video. It had the makings of one. There were two decent sized projection screens behind them, and a giant one in front of them that would appear and disappear spontaneously throughout their set. Their first song you could see their distorted and colored faces twirling about like ghosts from Ghostbusters while the band played along, somehow matching the lyrics and instrumentation. It was cool and creative and different, and that’s what OK Go was really going for; something to separate them for every other stale performance. That’s sort of been their mantra their entire career.

They did play some great songs, the one’s you’d expect- “Get Over It,” “When the Morning Comes,” “The Writing’s on the Wall,” “Here it Goes Again,” “This too Shall Pass,” “Skyscrapers,” and a few new songs. One of the best parts came when Damian took his acoustic guitar out in the middle of the crowd and played “Last Leaf.” Halfway through the song someone shouted “shut up,” and so he turned the other direction and finished the song.

Maybe the crowd was agitated by this point? If not, maybe it was the avalanches of confetti that doused the crowed after every other song? Or the fifteen minutes of trying to sample the crowd making drum sounds for a song that lasted about a minute at most. Or maybe it was their multiple breaks for pointless Q&A, or Damian’s snide back handed compliments about San Francisco having the most “gays and technology, two things that keep pushing the world forward.” It could have also been Tim and Damian’s short reenactment of Macbeth, showing their love for Theater, or Damian divulging information on how much Jameson he drank while swigging a beer. Whatever it was, the crowd should have gotten over it, because this was Rock N’ Roll.

It was four dudes on a stage just having fun. While they could have played a couple more songs, how many times do you get to shout questions at a band that are so revered by their fans? How many stories does one have about a show that was flawless? How often do you actually get to witness people step down from pedestals or have the foresight to see that these people are just regular old chaps that sometimes get too drunk and sometimes have just a little bit too much fun?The experience was unique, almost like a night of just hanging out with some crazy dudes. And for all the real fans of the band, the feeling walking out of that show was most likely the feeling they have after finishing one of their videos: confused, exhilarated, and utterly amazed.

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Girls in Suede- Self Titled

In listening to Girls in Suede’s much anticipated release after a five year hiatus, it feels I’ve discovered a portal to another dimension; a dimension where Brian Wilson (Beach Boys) and John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers) are sipping tea with the Mad Hatter in a land called Oz, while Mark Sandman (Morphine) serenades them with tranquil saxophone riffs making sure Keith Moon doesn’t disrupt this charming chaos.

Often times when a band morphs different sounds and genres it can be overbearing and loses its listener. It’s a bold move. The Girls in Suede have found a way to blend all their favorite styles into one; such as funk, prog, soul, and Jazz. But in the end it boils down to one concept: The Girls in Suede have rediscovered Rock n’ Roll. From the first ambient Radiohead-esq “pallet cleanser” titled My Light to the next track Raptor, they’ve got you pondering life’s existence and dancing on your coffee table screaming “Quasimola Fasitola” right along with them.

But don’t assume their funky rhythms and sing alongs don’t have a backbone. Lyrics like, “you can walk faster when you walk alone, but together longer, that is how we roam,” (an African proverb discovered from a Snapple bottle) on 1987  really epitomize the character of this album and this band. They are long time friends that communicate through their instruments, and their camaraderie is audible. They are emotional but don’t dwell in the dark. Their honesty is hinged with an introspective vulnerability that calmly clasps your hand to ask, “can I have this dance?”

Buy this record. Play it for your parents and play it for your nieces and nephews. Play it for your grandparents. Play it while you drive down the sunset strip, or peruse shops in Chinatown. You’ll have no choice, because this album won’t leave your speakers.

 

***Check out the interview with Girls in Suede on SF Station!

http://pulse.sfstation.com/2013/01/21/qa-girls-in-suede/

Girls in Suede EP