Earlier in the day, Cartel had made an appearance on MTV's "Total Request Live." What's somewhat shocking about this is that it will more likely be another cause of the band's exploding popularity as opposed to a result -- the band was only headlining the Fillmore at Irving Plaza (formerly the more concise Irving Plaza), a 1,200-cap club around Union Square, later that day.
This didn't actually matter entirely to me, however. The band's first EP was a bona fide guilty pleasure; the followup full-length was spotty, but decent enough -- not really worth the promise of hunting down its major label debut and followup.
What mattered was the terrific openers they brought out: Weatherbox, who slowly but surely continue to escape the shadow left by their Doghouse Records alum, and the Honorary Title, the Brooklyn-based outfit with a bizarre metamorphosis that's thankfully still enjoyable in the end result.
Weatherbox calmly walked onto the stage at precisely 7:30. Without a word they launched immediately into "Atoms Smash," "Armed to the Teeth" and "The Dreams," with only second-long pauses between. The band sounded fantastic, nailing every chord and each of the four members clearly into it and rocking. While barefoot singer/guitarist Brian Warren was responsible for unleashing his personal confessions upon the audience in lyrical form, it was guitarist Lowell Heflin that engaged the crowd during and in between songs. Warren spoke not a word to them, instead letting Heflin introduce the band and make small, friendly chatter during breaks. The band improvised a little with the bridge of "Armed to the Teeth," adding noodly, mid-`90s emo riffs. When they played "The Dreams" so early on, it was surprising -- it's one of their most well-written songs, but it's also got a ton of depth, without a whole lot of repetition to cling onto on first listen. Closer "Trippin' the Life Fantastic" was an obvious highlight; when Warren delivered to us his faith in anti-religion, he glared at the crowd hard -- you could tell he meant it. The Honorary Title's Jon Wiley came out to lend some keyboard assistance on "Trippin'," as well. All along, the band had been putting on a clearly inspired performance, but their bassist was literally pounding his fretboard by the end of the set in the song's climactic fury. The band’s progressive chord structures and strong rock base might have been a bit much for Cartel’s pre-pubescent fanbase, but I thought it was a wonderful live show, and the band’s few fans in attendance scattered about seemed to agree.
Set list (7:30-7:59):
- Atoms Smash
- Armed to the Teeth
- The Dreams
- The Clearing
- I Worship Raw Beats
- Snakes, Our Ground
- Trippin’ the Life Fantastic
The Honorary Title’s fellow Brooklyn hipsters Nightmare of You were originally scheduled as direct support on Cartel's tour, but THT stepped in when NOY dropped out for reasons unbeknownst. I used to associate little between the two outside of their locale, strange frontman resemblance
and obvious friendship (THT graciously opened one of NOY's first shows in 2004). But after their set here, it seemed like a stylistically even swap. Up until this very show, I’d heard very little of the Honorary Title’s long-delayed Scream & Light Up the Sky
, but knew to expect some drastic changes. And changes there are. All of the band’s folk and alt-country overtones have virtually dissipated, making way for pure, shimmering atmospheres of Britpop guitar (hello delay). Frontman Jarrod Gorbel has retained his moody, baritone delivery, but with all these differences between now and when they formed as a duo at their outset, the Honorary Title really isn’t entirely
different from the band whose own founder carries an affinity for Morrissey and Echo and the Bunnymen. Fortunately, the band has struck upon an enjoyable interpretation of the style, with all the songs more or less fairly impressive. They offered a fair mix of material new and old, drawing four songs from 2004’s Anything Else But the Truth
, and adding their new atmospheric flourishes to nearly every one -- it might have been the best I’ve seen them play “Everything I Once Had.” I was disappointed that the excellent “Frame by Frame” didn’t make an appearance, but “Cats in Heat” made for an epic penultimate inclusion. Despite Gorbel slurring his speech rather blatantly during his introduction to “The City’s Summer,” he kept his composure through the set rather well; besides, at least he refused to respond to several girls up front audibly and randomly declaring their love for him (“flip your hair!!”). The crowd seemed pretty split -- most were bored, while some of the band’s fans could be heard loudly applauding Truth
selections. Another great set.
- Thin Layer
- Bridge and Tunnel
- Far More
- Untouched and Intact
- Everything I Once Had
- The City’s Summer
- Stay Away
- Cats in Heat
- Stuck at Sea
For reasons that shouldn’t need much explaining, I chose to exit shortly after. I’m sure Cartel put on a well-performed, modestly executed and decently enjoyable display of pop-rock, though, if you’re wondering.