Last Night: Switches, the Virgins, Be Your Own Pet, and She Wants Revenge at Revolution

The Nylon Summer Tour

With Switches, the Virgins, Be Your Own Pet, and She Wants Revenge

Revolution, Ft. Lauderdale

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Better Than: Seeing Switches, the Virgins, or Be Your Own Pet in the future at whatever bigger venues to which they will graduate.

The Review: Everyone seems to sponsor their own branded concert tour these days. So why not Nylon magazine? After all, it’s one of the few almost-mass-market lifestyle mags for young women that distinguishes between style and fashion, celebrating individuality and boasting pretty swell music coverage to boot. That the lineup of the tour is a grab-bag of up-and-coming acts, with little in common except that they’ve been featured in Nylon’s pages, just made the possibilities intriguing. If anything, the local stop of the show promised an eclectic crowd.

Which it did, although the divisions between factions were pretty clear. On one hand, there were the Nylon acolytes, fresh-faced and often turned out in cute dresses and scarves (or plaid shirts for the guys). On the other hand, there was the fishnet-and-vinyl-garbed contingent pretty obviously only there for She Wants Revenge, a band that has been more and more strongly claimed by the “dark alternative” (no one cops to the G-word) set. And in the middle of the evening, the twain never really met.

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In the dreaded first early-weeknight-all-ages-show-at-Revolution slot came Switches, a quartet hailing from the south of England. Having already played massive festivals in their home country, the bandmates seemed ready and able to rally a crowd. They succeeded, despite the venue being only scarcely more than half full around 7:30. Stage patter in a British accent always reels ‘em in, but the tunes also spoke for themselves – hooky, danceable rock that satisfies a yen for the Britpop of old, while sounding fresh and updated. Okay, the band may not have reinvented the wheel, but they sure are driving it smoothly (or something). The songs are nearly impossible to dislike, and live, their execution is top-notch. Also, it must be said, the boys are exceptionally thin and good-looking. It’s the kind of band that girls really like, and this will propel them far.

Next up were the Virgins, a very cool New York (well, below 14th Street, important distinction) foursome also poised for bigger things. However, at this point, the audience was swelling in size but also becoming more of a gloomy drag. Perhaps at a loss with the lack of guyliner onstage, half the people in the pit of the club stood stone-faced, and most of the people around me shouted through the whole set. Shame, because the Virgins rallied, keeping things upbeat and even more pleasantly angular, raw, and funky live than on their album. It was at this point that the variables of setting became abundantly clear, even within just South Florida. Put these guys on around midnight during a dance party at a smaller venue in Miami, and I have no doubt that people would go nuts. At 8:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, in Ft. Lauderdale, in front of a crowd clearly thinking something like “NEEDZ MOAR DARK,” not so much. Oh well.

But even the walking dead in the venue had to perk up and take notice of the third act, the runaway surprise hit of the evening: Nashville’s Be Your Own Pet. Their first wave of adulation came a couple years ago, with the release of the band’s self-titled debut album. Because not only was it an awesomely scrappy collection of dirty power chords, but the kids in the band were something like 16 when it was released. However, many critics have written off this year’s follow-up, Get Awkward, along the lines that the band has “lost it.” Is it possible to lose “it” before the age of 20? Whatever, maybe these people are just a bunch of cranky old guys upset that lead singer Jemima Pearl is no longer jailbait, or something. Because from her first pseudo-shriek, she had everyone enthralled.

Plainly, she is a fucking badass, on so many levels. Probably 95 pounds soaking wet, sporting a chopped platinum moptop, the shorts and T-shirt she sported onstage revealed a constellation of dozens of gnarly FTW bruises on her arms and legs. She owned the stage with a trademark dance move somewhere between the pony and a minor convulsion. Hell, even when she openly spit, it was both tough and cute. A clear sign of a striking live band: multiple strangers asking each other who they’re watching. Even the hardcore-loving guy behind me had to say, “Dude, I’d totally bro down with that chick.”

Finally came She Wants Revenge. A disclaimer – I’ve found this band pretty disingenuous from early on. So have a lot of other people, although many often just point to singer Justin Warfield’s previous hip-hop efforts. Okay, but his solo album as an MC came out in the early Nineties (check out a video below, after the review) – and surely, a guy is allowed to explore different avenues over a 15-year-span. And as a fellow lover of both the hip-hop and the goth (ugh, that word), I kind of think the idea of such drastic branching out is awesome.

My qualms have been with the execution, not the theory. In the Nineties, the main criticism hurled at Warfield was that he sounded too much like Q-Tip, who had already perfected a specific sound a few years before. In the ‘00s, it seems that Warfield sounds a whole lot like Paul Banks – who had already perfected a specific sound, a few years before.

In most interviews, Warfield has cited the Cure, Joy Division, the Smiths (and even Prince?) as specific influences for this project. That’s all well and good, but it seems he just rewound to the earlier part of this decade, stopping at Interpol’s singles catalogue (and only the singles). (In turn, in the early days, Interpol was often accused of aping Joy Division. But they have proven to evolve into something far more complex and nuanced.) When She Wants Revenge released their minor hit, the single “Tear You Apart,” I was intrigued by its dark, rhythmic incantations, despite the band’s cringe-worthy name. But a few listens to the band’s self-titled debut didn’t turn up anything much deeper.

Still, I figured I would give the band a second shot live, especially with the subsequent release of its second album, This Is Forever, late last year. And a show review is about the quality of the performance, and not necessarily the songs themselves, right?

So, okay. A glowing blue square on the wall above the band seemed to indicate a planned projection show that had possibly malfunctioned. Bad luck, especially because the programmed stage lighting was, maybe as a result of that, very dark. So dark, only the silhouettes of the musicians were visible for most of the set. On top of that, the guys seemed stuck as far as what to do onstage without a visual distraction – so they did, pretty much, nothing. I have seen few people playing danceable beats stand so still for so long.

As far as the set list, it was more or less an evenly distributed mix of older and newer material – I think. With sort of muffled vocals, and too many songs of similar tempo and structure strung together in a row, everything sort of ran together. Bored, my friends and I took to singing various Interpol melodies over a few songs. “PDA” and the choruses to “Evil” worked particularly well, on more than one occasion.

Not that the audience seemed to notice or care. Of course, it’s hard to find a crowd at a show not excited about the headlining act they’ve paid to see, but this was confusing. Interpol last played in Miami at the BankUnited Center – a small arena; the band is thus not obscure to modern rock fans. We already had Turn On the Bright Lights and Antics, and even Interpol themselves knew better than to try for a third version. Not to mention, of course, that we already have a Cure, a Depeche Mode, a Bauhaus, or whatever else She Wants Revenge is currently stressing as influence now that its original trendy-indie-kid fan contingent has dissipated. (By the way, whoever keeps rehashing on the Internet the claim of a Sisters of Mercy influence is just regurgitating a press release, smoking something strong, or both. These people are possibly also making Andrew Eldritch a little sad-faced.)

Of course, everyone is allowed to pay homage to artists who have inspired them. But bands who synthesize these sources really well also add something new to the mix, or at least put on a stellar live show to justify their success. Last night, She Wants Revenge seemed to do neither. I could make all kinds of puns here about revenge, or tearing things apart, but in the end there are far worse fates than enduring an hour or so of vague ennui. Maybe the band has, indeed, achieved that ultimate gothy goal of prodding the listener to ponder life’s existential questions. In this case, it just wasn’t in the way intended. -- Arielle Castillo

Personal Bias: I’ve been turned off by She Wants Revenge since first seeing them live at Studio A in the spring of 2006, shortly after the release of their debut album. I can tell you things that happened at the club at 4 a.m. that night (as part of an unrelated event, Peter Hook of Joy Division/New Order DJed, haha). But even a couple hours after that gig, all I could recall was an overwhelming sense of being underwhelmed.

Random Detail: In various recent show audiences I’ve been noticing a tiny, tiny resurgence of true old-school death rock style. Which is kind of great. I just wish it were accompanying a resurgence of actual death rock.

By the Way: The Virgins’ debut self-titled full-length comes out officially on June 3, on Atlantic. Get it – it’s a lot of fun.

Justin Warfield in 1993 as a beatnik conscious-type MC. Actually pretty good for its era, although maybe I think that because I really like A Tribe Called Quest. (To be fair, it’s not so much his actual voice that sounds like Tip here, moreso his flow.) But hey, he got Prince Paul to produce this track, which is pretty impressive.

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