October 12, 2011

The Horrors/ The Stepkids - Webster Hall - October 4, 2011

My friend Jegan showed up late after The Stepkids performed and had to push through the crowd to get to me. I was standing about 10 feet from the stage waiting for The Horrors set which was about to start. I'm sure Jegan's catching up to me unintentionally pissed off people around me. I saw someone smirk as I mentioned to Jegan that I weaseled myself into the show after only becoming familiar with The Horrors music during the past week. But I'm sure those two things pissed people off as much as when I was trying to photograph the band and unknowingly hit people in the face with my elbow. A woman who was standing with her date, let me know she wasn't too happy getting hit by my elbow. ....Ah the things I do for concert-log.

The Stepkids

I really loved The Stepkids; they were musically and visually fun to watch. Visually they brought the whole 60's psychedelic experience into this millennium. Unlike 60's and 70's when psychedelic images and color splashes were used as a back drop for the band, The Stepkids have visuals projected on themselves and since they are basically the screen they wear all white as if they were receiving communion or were waiters at a country club.

I listened to one or two of The Stepkids songs on their MySpace page before going to the show but I really didn't get a handle on their sound until I was standing right in front of them. For me, The Stepkids sound is like a head on collision between Rotary Connection, Curtis Mayfield and Issac Hayes. As dangerous as that sounds, it makes for wonderful music.

There were times when all three of the The Stepkids sang together like on "Suburban Dream" at which point they reminded of the band War (specifically "The World is Ghetto"). Then there were songs like "Shadows on Behalf" when I wouldn't have been surprised if they broke into Earth, Wind and Fire's "Sun Goddess."

For the slow and funky song "Legend in My Own Mind" female vocalist Clara Ines Schuhmacher came out to share vocals with all three musicians. The song sounded very Sly Stone or maybe Prince if you took Jeff Gitelman's guitar solos into account. But just like Sly and the Family Stone, the song had a mixture of different voices with a low baritone voice in the mix.

The genre heading on The Stepkids MySpace page is Other-Psychedelic-Soul. My description is a funk and soul band with a psychedelic twist. They incorporate all the good stuff that those 3 genres encompass and do it in way that's contemporary.

There were two things I noticed and liked most during The Stepkids set. The first was that drummer Tim Walsh smiled through most of the set, even as he sang. The second was watching Gitelman do his guitar shtick. For example, I believe it was during "Cup Half Full" that Gitelman imitated Jimi Hendrix by playing guitar with his teeth (or at least trying to.)

There was a pretty nice crowd for The Stepkids set. But for all those who arrived only to see The Horrors - you missed something special.

The Stepkids Set List
Suburban Dream
Shadows On Behalf
Legend In My Own Mind
Santos And Ken
La La
Sweet Salvation
Cup Half Full

The Stepkids are:
Tim Walsh - Drums
Jeff Gitelman - guitar
Dan Edinberg - bass

Clara Ines Schuhmacher - additional vocals
Visuals done by Jesse Man

The Horrors

Sometimes bands with relatively dark music are lit from behind with the effect being that band members are seen as shadows. Sometimes I think bands are lit from behind because they prefer not to be videoed by every Tom, Dick or Harry that wants to put them on YouTube. And sometimes I think both reasons come into play. Whatever the reason, photographing The Horrors was impossible. One would think that I could have least gotten a good shot of the Faris Badwan but dude kept his hands in front of his face most if not all of the time.

I kind of knew The Horrors were going to be loud because the amount of amps lined up across the back of the stage. I thought the loudness and heavy duty lighting that created shadow images were all part of The Horrors stage affect which worked on me like The Godfather movies (except the last one). As long as I was looking at the screen, I was totally in that world.

The band opened up with sound effect over which drummer Joe Spurgeon played a mid-tempo beat he might have copped from an old Cocteau Twins CD. The song was "Changing the Rain" which for the most part was carried by Rhys Webb's bass playing. By that I mean, all other instrumentation that surrounded the drums, bass and vocals, just seemed like decorative atmospheric echoing sounds.

"Who Can Say" picked up tempo with Tom Cowan's playing an interesting theme on keyboard while Joshua Hayward's distorted guitar added strong backup to Badwan's vocal. "Who Can Say" was from The Horrors second CD Primary Colors and on Tuesday night, I was hearing it for the first time. So when Badwan sang/spoke the part "And when I told her I didn't love her anymore - she cried....... then I kissed her with a kiss that only meant goodbye," I thought hmmm..I wonder if the people around me know he's doing a song quote from "She Cried." The original song was by Jay and the Americans. (Since I'm over 50 and the audience average was 25 - I think not) What I find funny is that as a break in a The Horror's song - it sounds intense.

"I Can See Through You" was a close runner up for one of my favorite songs in the show.  The hook sticks in my head like glue; it usually takes another great song to remove it. The audience cheered when Hayward started the following song,"Scarlett Fields," by doing his weird guitar thing.  Hayward did his showman bit at the edge of the stage but I still wasn't feeling the song - it seemed very stream of consciousness. Maybe I would have felt it more if I were more acquainted with the second CD.

I really enjoyed "Dive In," there was something in the song that felt very 90's to me. Perhaps it was the jangling guitar playing against the drums that gave me that feeling. I also dug the chorus. On the other hand "Three Decades" allowed me to imagine what it would be like to be moving slowly on heroin while everything around me was swirling at high speed.

I think that Faris Badwan and Paul Banks of Interpol have melodies that are catchy in a non-assuming way. I think both bands are close in sound. Except The Horrors in concert made me feel like I wanted to feel when I saw Interpol. That is to say The Horrors had a vibrant energy that stayed with them through to the encore, knowing how and when to slow tempo down and then bring it back up to speed. An example of that was "Endless Blue," with its slow opening section containing faux (sampled) horn section.

My favorite song of the show was "Monica Gem," I loved the guitar riff and how the background vocals almost sound flat (sour) but somehow work. The following song "Sea Within A Sea" had the same chromatic slanted feel until the end when an arpeggiated synth part came in, then it started to feel like an Erasure song.

As I was watching The Horrors, I was almost sure they were going to end with "Still Life." It was probably because the song has a momentous finality to it - and yes more faux horns. But the band rocked out with "Mirror Image" before saying their first good night.

The Horrors came back for an encore, finally ending with "Moving Farther Away" which pretty much stayed in my head through the walk home. If I didn't know all of The Horrors music before the show, I liked them enough to make sure I know their music for the next time around.

The Horrors Are:
Faris Badwan - vocals
Joshua Hayward - guitar
Tom Cowan - keyboards
Rhys Webb - bass
Joe Spurgeon - drums

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