Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cheap Girls / The Sidekicks / Brothers of Brazil - Live at the Knitting Factory

 This review has been published on

*not the actual flyer for this show*
90’s nostalgia was at an all-time high on March 6th at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. The new champions of alt. punk and indie rock, the Sidekicks and Cheap Girls, were on the bill and nearly everyone in attendance had securely fashioned their loose-fitting flannels and Rivers Cuomo glasses. The Knitting Factory is neatly divided into two segments: in the front is the bar with seating, video game consoles and a no-charge ATM; while the back room is where the stage is located along with its own bar. It’s a cozy environment and exactly the type of place to see bands that might be too explosive for a basement, but not quite large enough to sell out a stadium.

The first act of the night was the local Brooklyn band, Velta. Combining memorable hooks, dirty garage-revival tones, and a lead vocalist who is closer to Joan Jett than Hayley Williams, the trio started the night off right, setting a high energy bar that the rest of the bands would need to match or exceed. Velta made note of their lack of proper merchandise, but also informed the crowd of their recordings on bandcamp and upcoming events.

Brothers of Brazil took the stage not long after Velta moved their equipment. Consisting of only two members the band was certainly the most diverse and theatrical band of the night; as their sound, in the same spirit as Chumbawamba and Gogol Bordello before them, seamlessly blended traditional influences with punk rock ideals. One moment the duo would be playing a samba beat before exploding into a 1950’s rock and roll solo, followed by a bossa nova guitar riff with a punk rock shout over it. Drummer and vocalist Supla, dressed in a manner that was very inspired by the look of Johnny Rotten, split his time being behind the drum kit and running around stage to amp up the energy in the room. Meanwhile his brother, guitarist and vocalist João, was dressed more like Elvis or Ritchie Valens, and moved in a very similar manner. Initially greeted with blank stares, each passing song gained one more audience member who stepped closer to the stage to get a good look at this truly unique band, culminating in a loud applause at the end.
The room filled with a sea of scraggly beards, thick rims, and complete with the distinct smell of PBR as the Sidekicks began to set up for their set. In spite of releasing a new album two weeks ago the band opted to open their set with Hop on a Sea Cow and Manatee Up from 2008’s Sam EP, which was a treat for the band’s older fans, but it was also a signal that the band’s set would focus on their career as a whole and not just promoting their newest work. Not that it would have made a huge difference, as the entire room sang along with each and every word, old and new songs alike. The band kept their banter to a minimum overall, notable exceptions include bassist Ryan Starinsky’s dream-induced comment regarding New York, dreams, and pigeons (something he decided not to repeat) and guitarist Matt Scheuermann’s attempt to talk to the crowd before tying his tongue into a knot.

While they might have had some trouble with their words, the Sidekicks were anything but too tired to play, putting forth tremendous amounts of energy into each song, particularly the incredible beating that drummer Matt Climer put his kit through, breathing a new life into their songs that can’t be found on the studio recordings. The band tore through songs like Almost the Same, Small, and Chips Bring a Party Down, but the highlights of the night were the stunning performances of The Whale and Jonah, and Daisy, both five and a half minute indie rock epics. Without missing a single note, the quartet took the audience on a journey to a time that most had only seen through video performances on MTV or YouTube. Perhaps it was the deep red lighting that was reflecting off his equally red shirt, or maybe it was his long hair sticking to his face, but lead vocalist/guitarist Steve Ciolek was channeling Kurt Cobain during these songs, dropping to the floor, and playing so hard that his guitar strap came undone and he had to finish the set on his knees. It was moving as it was powerful and the band left the stage with the audience cheering for more.

Much like the Sidekicks, Cheap Girls decided to avoid playing a set heavily emphasized on their new album, and instead chose to open with Something That I Need, from their 2009 full length, My Roaring 20’s. Fans only familiar with the apathetic, college rock feel of the band’s first two albums were in for a surprise to hear old favorites updated with the newfound vigor that the band has adopted, as the power trio played song-after-song from their all of their studio recordings, as well as their track from last year’s split with Lemuria.

Hearing the old songs filtered through this brand new energy was like getting to hear them for the first time again; classics such as Kind of on Purpose, No One to Blame, and Modern Faces were injected with a force that was not present four years ago, giving them a whole new feel. The guitar was blaring and distorted, the drums and bass were steady and consisted, and Ian Graham belted out the lyrics with ease, while drummer Ben Graham provided back-up vocals that accentuated his brother’s voice. The band made little time for between-song chat, only pausing to finish a beer or to quickly fine tune their instruments, but the audience didn’t care because that only meant more songs to be heard.

Generally when a headlining band finishes their set they will walk off stage and, if they are the type of band to perform encores, will wait for the crowd to cheer them back on. Cheap Girls barely had time to put their instruments down before they were bombarded with requests from the audience and decided to stay on the stage. After turning down the idea of playing Stop Now, including an unfinished anecdote from Ian regarding a conversation he had with Mikey Erg (who was in attendance) before the show about his dislike for that song, Cheap Girls played a two song encore of fan-favorites Ft. Lauderdale and 27 Days.

Whether people want to accept it or not, the 90’s are over and done. And while Facebook pages and various memes online will protest this fact, not many are willing to take what made the 90’s so great and move forward with that. The Sidekicks and Cheap Girls are not a part of that unwilling group. These two bands have an extraordinary ability to create something new out of the past, both in the studio and in a live setting, carving out their own place in history to be looked back upon fondly.

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