When the measure of your work is the measure of your worth / Then you better make it work"Jets to Brazil - "The Frequency"
forgetters, the majuscule-challenging new band from vocalist/guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach (ex-Jawbreaker/Jets to Brazil, in case you forgot), drummer Kevin Mahon (ex-Against Me!) and bassist Caroline Paquita (ex-Bitchin'), played their fourth show ever Fri., Sept. 25, at Philadelphia's the Barbary, with support from Onion Flavored Rings and Amateur Party. It was amazing.
Amateur Party opened the night quite well. Frontman Mike McKee (Armalite/ex-Kill the Man Who Questions) spouted leftist anthems like "Let Youth Be Your Drug," "Public Utility Complaint" and "Gun Fever." The music was similar to McKee's other bands -- socially conscious punk with a D.C. hardcore bent, yet so catchy that this guy could be truly dangerous if he ever got his hands on the infernal youths of America -- with a healthy injection of folk á la Ted Leo. Drummer Steve Roche and bassist Scott Mercer formed a tight trio with McKee, although the band still provided loose, fun, angry tunes about got-damn corporations and gun violence in Philly. Lyrics tend to get buried at punk shows, so it was cool of McKee to explain the meanings behind his songs (i.e. -- "Public Utility Complaint" is about legislation Pennsylvania energy companies pushed through to make it easier to shut off peoples' heat during the winter). The band has a seven-inch out now; go buy it.
Onion Flavored Rings, by contrast, seemed a little outclassed. The band went for a straighter bubblegum pop-punk sound -- think Ramones mixed with Dead Milkmen. These guys had a bit of legacy on their side too, as bassist Paul Curran did time in Crimpshrine. But given how sloppily the band played in between fits of awkward stage banter (or lack thereof), it's probably best not to think about that. While OFR weren't exactly bad, they were easily the weak link in an otherwise stellar evening.
But you didn't click this review to read about OFR. forgetters were the main draw. While the Barbary was a little empty during the first two bands (I blame the early start time. 6:30 p.m. on a Friday in a city whose streets seem to be perpetually under construction probably wasn't convenient for a lot of people), the place was packed by the time forgetters went on. Which is good, because they are a very good band. They play very good songs. They say very funny things in between the very good songs. And they just generally make me abuse words like "very" and "good." And this isn't just the superfan in me talking (Although, can we pause to reflect that is a Jawbreaker/Against Me! supergroup? Is that OK?). At least one new fan remarked that forgetters might be the best Schwarzen-band yet.
Aw, but describing the band's sound is tricky. Well, OK, it's easy: Rock and/or roll. But there are so many mines to avoid. Schwarzenbach's guitar tone definitely recalls Jawbreaker circa Dear You -- dark, ominous, raw. But this ain't 24 Hour Retread Therapy. In a way -- and I might be making it worse for all the post-Revenge haters out there -- the group seems more like a logical extension of Jets to Brazil. Swan song Perfecting Loneliness had moments of danceable indie rock, like "You're the One I Want" and "William Tell Override," which plays a role in forgetters, though obviously without piano or strings or country inflections or pretty vocals. That's right; Blake's back to screaming, and it is glorious. Throw in a pinch of Siamese Dream's guitar pyrotechnics and Pornography's romanticism/depression too.
Being the first time I've heard Mahon drum since, uh, AM!'s 2001 EP Crime, it was a thorough revelation just how comfortable the guy seems going from rock to 16-note dance beats. The group joked about going goth ("Do you wanna get down?" asked Schwarzenbach, to which Mahon chimed in, "Like sober-down?"), though that self-deprecation bears a hint of truth. Obviously, I'm just going off of surface glances, but the band's got a song called "Vampire Lessons." At least one of the tunes is about trying to believe in love. But then, "Not Funny" is about an Afghani girl torn between her love for a soldier and her father, so I'm pretty sure Blake's lyrics overall are going to seem more political once I actually get to read them.
There were some missteps. Blake flubbed "Not Funny," but he played it off well, and the band pulled together to finish the song. Some kid whose parents didn't acknowledge him enough kept shouting "Holla," and his attention-seeking behavior killed the mood every time. But these are insignificant bumps on an otherwise perfect show. For the record, I hope forgetters stick around for a while. Each member is essential, both in terms of songwriting and live performance. Schwarzenbach is the charmer, Mahon is the wiseacre and Paquita is the quiet, awkward genius. They're all funny, they all rock and they form a strong contender for "New Favorite Band."
I have a set list for you, though I should mention that (A) it probably means nothing to you since none of these songs have been recorded and (B) at least one of the songs listed ("1982"), which I got from reading Paquita's list upside down in the dark, is not the full title. There's already at least one video from the night online, but honestly the quality is so bad that you're better off waiting for a studio recording. Still, get stoked:
- Black Art
- Helicopter vs. Rabbit
- Deadly Death
- Not Funny
- Vampire Lessons
- Not Immune
- Too Small
- Track Bike Speed