The Weakerthans / Rock Plaza Central - live in New York (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

The Weakerthans / Rock Plaza Central

live in New York (2009)

live show

I was definitely that fan when I walked into Bowery Ballroom with my friend to check out the bands opening for the Weakerthans. Our interest was expressly invested in seeing John K. Samson and company for our first time, but out of common courtesy viewed Tomte, who must've just began their set. When the amusing frontman jibed with the crowd in between songs in a thick European accent, we eventually came to realize this band was from Germany. My entire interest in German indie rock kinda starts at Velveteen and ends at the Kids Explode, (a) scene(s) Tomte didn't seem to quite derive from. But their very vaguely Spoon-ish indie rock (minus Spoon's weirder, recent adult-alterna vibes, I guess?) was cool, simultaneously detached yet involved, and a little messy at best and pretty listenable at worst. Their tunes get a B-, but their vocalist/guitarist's accented banter ("I'm going to buy all the anti-Bush shirts on eBay no one wears anymore and make one giant shirt out of it") gets an A.

Rock Plaza Central was less compelling but their talent was straight undeniable. They had seven or eight people on stage, half of whom looked like typical dads, but all played their respective instruments vividly and flawlessly: violin, mandolin, guitar, bass, drums, some brass instrument I can't quite recall, keyboard and probably something else. They definitely all had a craft they've clearly been at work at for quite some time. Their singer looked like a somewhat older fellow too, yet still retained that semi-cartoony Plan-It-X/Samson-esque delivery. You know what I'm talking about. They didn't quite capture my attention the entire time (apparently they're getting compared to Neutral Milk Hotel; I'm not hearin' it, and if I did it might be a different story), but their somewhat orchestral indie-rock-folk was elaborate and melodic and clearly heartfelt.

But it was greatly rewarding when the Weakerthans finally took the stage. I was honestly taken back when the band opened with an absolutely sparkling and genre-defying version of "Night Windows"; for a band who operates so heavily on plaintive songs with nerdily specific metaphors and understated musical deliveries, the opening chords here just sounded so epic in that oddly-arena-rock-yet-completely-sincere Death Cab circa "The New Year" way. It was awesome.

That feeling quickly dissipated for something more naturally intimate-feeling, but that was A-OK. Everyone got to hear an excellent batch of songs and I wasn't internally complaining about the set list until I spun Reunion Tour days later and realized how cool it would've been for Samson to throw in "Elegy for Gump Worsley" when he was playing a few songs solo in the middle of the set (you're in Manhattan and the song name-drops the Rangers; c'mon!) or maybe shoehorn that lovely slower dirge, "Sun in an Empty Room," somewhere. But whatever -- there are way too many other excellent tracks from that album and their others to ignore. Finger-points and inoffensively active sing-alongs enused for just about the whole set list, but the picker-uppers induced lots of bouncing around and pogo-ing as far as the crowd towards the front-and-center was concerned.

Samson talked a bit here and there, but never overextended explanations or wasted precious time that could be saved for songs. He was earnest and friendly, and even let an audience member come up to take over his guitar solo in one song I am now failing to exactly recall. The shaggy dude in question who had been standing directly in front of the stage the whole night came up, took the guitar and a few verbal notes from Samson and busted into it; he missed a note here or there, but he sounded pretty solid otherwise and it was a cool sight to see. A pseudo-15 minutes of fame, if you will.

A very tight and crisp set, with two encores no less (seriously). Few complaints to field here.

Set list (11:12-12:13):

  1. Night Windows
  2. Tournament of Hearts
  3. Our Retired Explorer
  4. Benediction
  5. Reconstruction Site
  6. Aside
  7. Relative Surplus Value
  8. One Great City!
  9. Sounds Familiar
  10. Bigfoot
  11. Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
  12. The Reasons
  13. Elegy for Elsabet
  14. Left and Leaving
  15. Wellington's Wednesdays
  16. (Manifest)
    1st Encore (12:14-12:30):
  17. Utilities
  18. Confessions of a Futon-Revolutionist
  19. Pamphleteer
    2nd Encore (12:30-12:37):
  20. Civil Twilight
  21. Psalm for the Elks Lodge Cast Call

Also, the Weakerthans apparently have a tour bus. Totally weird, but good for them.