Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tapes 'n Tapes w/ Ladyhawk & Harlem Shakes @ The Abbey Pub

A wise man once said, “Beer is the reason I get up every afternoon.” I can relate to that notion – and while I like beer, I am more into the pursuit of quality rawk. After spending Friday night getting 1.5 hours of sleep on a steel bench in the Warsaw, Poland airport, one could argue that I’m crazy for wanting to catch a show on Saturday. But thankfully the Abbey was hosting Tapes 'n Tapes for both early and late shows which meant I could hit the early one and still get home in time to crash by 11:00. What I’m trying to say is, it was absolutely worth it.

Harlem Shakes opened with a peppy set of songs that got better and better as their time continued. Early in their performance, I was thinking that something was missing – and not just a belt, shoes, and socks for lead signer Lexy Benaim, though they were noticeably absent. The first thing you notice about Harlem Shakes is that guitarist Todd Goldstein and bassist Jose Soegaard appear to be in a facial gesticulation contest. I mean they really go for it. And Goldstein is clearly the winner. For several songs we were simply mesmerized by his “astonished tortoise” gestures. Most of their better tracks feature falsetto backing vocals which fit nicely beneath the rest of the sound. The two standout songs were “Carpetbaggers” and “Red Right Hands” (not a Nick Cave cover). Generally, Harlem Shakes has the feel of a “little band that could.” Which kind of doesn’t make sense since they’re just starting out, but they were thoroughly enjoyable. The already somewhat full crowd gave them a nice ovation when they were finished.

Vancouver’s Ladyhawk has no clear relation to the 1985 Mathew Broderick/Rutger Hauer movie, but I’m not sure why you would name your band that if you didn’t want to create such a connection. They came out loud and stompy, seeming genuinely happy to be playing in front of us. Frontman Duffy Driediger is a short, but burly fellow who spends most of the show with his eyes closed. He was also lacking a belt, and at various points we were given view of his plumber’s crack. What’s with no belts tonight? Bassist Sean Hawryluk’s long hair seemed to move in slow motion as he played – much like 80s metal bands perfected their headbanging skills, Hawryluk has his headswaying technique down. We again got a lot of harmonies with this group, mostly coming from drummer Ryan Peters. The band didn’t pay much attention to the crowd – they could have been playing in their basement in Canada, but it didn’t matter much. Comparisons to Neil Young are apt, and the set had enough fire and energy to keep the crowd engaged. I bought their album after the show, and it’s quite good, if a bit short. It’s somewhere between Young, the Old 97s, and the Black Keys if that helps.

According to the people I know that have played there, the sound guy at the Abbey is notoriously difficult. He does what he wants and doesn’t want to hear much input from the performers. He’s also like 6’4”, so he can probably get away with that more easily. I bring this up because Harlem Shakes set was somewhat quiet, Ladyhawk’s was probably the prefect volume, and Tapes 'n Tapes was a bit too loud – particularly the bass drum. I had earplugs in, but every time Karl Schweitz hit that thing, I could feel myself being pushed back a step from the soundwaves. I don’t know why you would give the bands different volumes, let alone why the bass drum would be at such a level so that it could knock over people’s beers. “Just Drums” opened the set, and the band kept things moving along. Frontman Josh Grier sported one of the worst haircuts I’ve ever seen, but it didn’t seem to bother him as much as it bothered me. They played their songs pretty similarly to the album versions, but the vocals got way more intense and passionate. Included in the set were at least four new tracks which ranged from potentially great to decidedly meh. But I won’t pass judgment until an album comes out. Towards the end of the set, some woman came in late to meet her friends and kept whacking me with the purse she had draped over her shoulder. It also bothered me that she was dancing like my mom dances to rock music. My mom is 70 years old. Young people shouldn’t dance like that. She was better than her friend who was doing something precisely halfway in between the hippie dance and the robot. It didn’t make any damn sense. I repeatedly knocked her purse off her shoulder, but she was undeterred in her efforts to ruin the show for me. Perhaps I was getting a bit cranky and intolerant from the lack of sleep, but these were annoying chicks. I hope they read this and feel badly about themselves. In any event, the set closed with rousing versions of “Insistor” and “Jakov’s Theme” (in Soviet Union, rawk show watches you!). The two shows in one night thing probably kept all the sets a bit shorter, but that was not problematic as all three performances were great.

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