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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Girls Vs. Boys, La Maroquinerie, 2/21/2007

I had a foggy recollection of this band live, since I had last seen them around 1997 (yeah, I know, dinosaurus, but so are they). They were vying for the coveted post of godfather of indie rock's hard side of the family, after Fugazi, the grunge bands, and perhaps Sonic Youth, had stepped down or, in the case of SY, to the side a bit.
I wondered how we had aged apart. How would we, once such close friends, receive each other at this reunion? Would we quickly fall back into our mutual understandings as if we had only parted yesterday? Would we be standoffish? Would we even recognize one another? Once I had loved them; they had definitively won my heart with a cover of Joy Division's classic "She's Lost Control" (see video of that cover at end of this review). But long-distance relationships are notoriously hard to maintain.

Ten years later I don't think they've changed so much. I ended up liking them, though, it's true, somewhat less than I did before.

This D.C. post-hardcore band has been known for for its double bass attack, sonic walls of reverbating guitar that appear like cliffs in a musical score and then violently drop off into pianissimo background ravines for the distinctive vocals of frontman Scott McCloud, his nasal almost drawling style uncannily recalling The Fall's Mark E. Smith (though the likeness is sometimes easily overlooked because of the very different background accompaniment to each of these singers). McCloud did the talking with the audience, and didn't come off arrogantly,sometimes expected of a lead singer, even practicing his French with the audience in a gesture of goodwill. And his accent is pas mal du tout.

All of that style re-emerged as if perfectly pickled and re-opened ten years later. The post-hardcore burst of loud guitars, the Fugazi-like relentlessness of some songs or choruses, the soft-loud-soft cycles, the transcendence of three chord, loud, driving punk--all of this made for an experience that can border on the hypnotic. I found myself nodding my entire body at mid-speed, which if you were to transplant me onto a city sidewalk would surely make me a dead giveaway for an escaped mental patient.

I realized there is something sinisterly expressionist about the sound GVSB produces in the end. It seems pent up, potentially dangerous. It's a person with grievances, issues. It is somewhat monotonous in the vocal style and the accompaniment and seems to build in aggression to the point of release, again and again, to the point of exhaustion--a bit like the exhausting hardcore that preceded it. In that sense it's cathartic. Perhaps Freud would've approved of its re-directing these darker impulses into sound and speak-sing.

Nor are the lyrics particularly cheery, despite their openness to poetic interpretation. "As out there as anyone
In the black hole dream," McCloud screeches in "Park Avenue. "I know you can still feel me/In the black hole scene/Do ya still dream/Check ya pulse/Read my mind/You got the access/Treat me like I don't exist. Does the speaker of this poem feel dead, a shell in a scene that has sucked his soul away as if he had gotten to close to a black hole? The sound and lyrics work together in a dark expressionism.

While I, too, approve of this highly expressionistic sound, in the end I realized this is mood music. That is not necessarily a criticism, but if you're looking for levitation try Belle and Sebastian, whose sound, it should be noted, is often much airier than their lyrics. It's good to know that old friends can still have an important place in your life. But I'm still not planning on going to that high school reunion.

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Formerly "Parisnormale: Paris Rocks"