Monday, November 16, 2009

Show Review: Art Brut at Oberlin, 11/11

Eddie Argos is a master showman.

I can't say that I've appreciated any one band leader's effort onstage any more than I have his.

If you haven't been fortunate enough to see Art Brut live yet and, thus, don't quite catch this frame of reference, consider this: he is the polar opposite of Jeff Tweedy.

That is, he's fun, cool, and doesn't make you feel like a jerk for coming to his show.

Last week, Argos and company blew into Oberlin like an alcoholic windstorm. I'd interviewed Eddie by phone the day before, when he began the conversation by letting me know he was hungover and that I should go easy, and apparently that night featured a repeat performance by his liver. When I saw him adjacent to the stage and said hello, he informed me he once again woke up hungover, but at least that morning was in Chicago and he had time for some solid record shopping before trekking over to Northeast Ohio. He also told me he thought he was freaking the students at the ultra-posh liberal arts campus out as he skulked across campus looking like a zombie in his long tan trench coat. Based on the various co-eds I'd observed trying to sneak into pictures with him, I assured him his impression on the Oberlin audience was just fine.

Following a solid opening performance by Surfer Blood, Art Brut took the stage to the cautious delight of the Oberlin crowd. It seemed like more students were there because it was something cool to do than because they were fans of the band - in fact, while waiting to be let in, I struck up a conversation with a young guy writing for the campus newspaper who, despite being there to cover the show, clearly had no clue about the band, beyond listening to a track or two on myspace (his claim). Still, I wasn't there to ogle Oberlin lassies and laddies; I was there to rock.

Fortunately for me, Art Brut made that quite easy, bringing a 16 song set list that, despite not including my favorite track ("Mysterious Bruises") off their last album, still sent me home in quite high spirits. They began the show with "Formed A Band," the lead track off 2006's Bang Bang Rock & Roll, ending it with snippets of "I Kissed A Girl" and REM's "It's the End of the World As We Know It," closing with Argos convincingly stating "And I feel a-maz-ing." Such snippets continued throughout the night, from (awfully) singing "Karma Police" at the start of "My Little Brother" and Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing" during "Rusted Guns of Milan" to echoing King's of Leon's "Sex on Fire" and "Human" by The Killers in "Slap Dash (For No Cash)" - a song which Argos loves to perform because it is about how much he loves The Mountain Goats, but also because it is fun to dance to as he thinks it sounds like Motley Crue and Poison.

Throughout the show, Argos provided insight about each of the songs and what they were about, despite promising the crowd he'd not talk too much that night, saying, "You are very young, with short attention spans, so I'm trying to keep things brief." For instance, he informed the crowd that "Rusted Guns of Milan" was about a bout with erectile dysfunction (though later, while suffering some mid-song problems with the sound system, informed us that he was "all set now, both my penis and the monitors"). We also learned that "Demons Out" is a song about how the band hates people buying records these days, while "The Passenger" was introduced with a story about how Iggy Pop's song by the same name was not in fact about public transportation but rather about doing heroin in the back of a limo with David Bowie. Thankfully, Art Brut has rectified the situation, providing a stomper of a tune about busses and trains. And, of course, "Alcoholics Unanimous" was preceded by the (completely unnecessary) reminder that this song was about drinking ("DRINKING!!!" as Argos put it).

Argos provided a fundamentally interactive stage presence the entire set, entering the crowd multiple times, including one time where he insisted the entire audience sit or crouch down and listen to his fictional story about the DC Comics sub-basement where he came across the real world of Batman (noting Val Kilmer's filmic Batman was not present - "that shit did not happen"). There were the usual Art Brut effects, with Argos jump-roping with the mic cord (which came to an unpleasant abortive end when he found himself caught up in a mic stand), a rant about finding video games in record stores (which ended with him beseeching the crowd to go home and start a band), a mid-song break during "Alcoholics Unanimous" to talk about that morning's hangover, and a top of the pops chant that included shout-outs to openers Surfer Blood, Art Brut themselves, and, for some reason, The Mosquitos.

All in all, it was exactly what one has come to expect from Art Brut, which means it was a grand show. And, to be honest, I did get to hear a bit of "Mysterious Bruises" - he rapped a few of the lines while doing some improv during the encore's last song, "Post Soothing Out."

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