Concert Reviews

Last Night: Little Joy, The Dead Trees, Cocky Americans at The Lounge on Elm Street

Little Joy, The Dead Trees, Cocky Americans
The Lounge on Elm Street
November 26, 2008

Better than:  Brown gravy on mashed potatoes.

(We've also got a little video from the show after the jump)

The first thing that comes to mind about The Lounge on Elm Street is intimacy. The small, boxy venue forces audiences to come together and be a part of the event. With no true backstage area to speak of, bands are faced with little choice but to rub shoulders with the audience, to wait in line at the same bar with them, and to share the same sidewalk space while smoking.

So it was even more amazing that such a buzzed-about band like Little Joy would play there. Before, during, and after the show, members of all three bands hung around as if they were just commoners at The Lounge. It seemed more like watching a friend's garage band than seeing a group that features the drummer from the Strokes and the front-man of Los Hermanos.

The opening act, Cocky Americans, was a local group straining for that NYC sound, but with a touch of emo. Their largely instrumental set was spent trying to convince the audience they were more punk rock than they were.

When guitarist Drew Yeargan broke a string midway through the set, singer Brett Michael Strawn yelled, "We're going to keep going," as if to further persuade the crowd of this fact.

As the set carried on, it was obvious The Strokes had a huge influence on their key structure and timbre. Although the vocalist was an apparent disciple of Julian Casablancas, the band was able to pique the interest of the audience, a task where most opening acts fail miserably.

Next up was The Dead Trees. The Portland quintet left all gimmicks behind, and got back to the rock n' roll fundamentals.

"We just like to have fun," The Dead Trees's guitarist Matthew Simon proclaimed before the band went on - and he kept his promise. Despite monitor problems throughout their set, the group never let on. After touring with Little Joy for the last three weeks, The Dead Trees knew their place. While the headliners would surely bring the smooth and subtle wine later in the evening, this troupe had to deliver the whiskey. On many songs, Simon dropped pulsating guitar riffs as the rest of the group embraced the sweet-and-sour discord so popular in the pacific northwest-- much like their fellow Portlanders, The Joggers.

While Little Joy is gaining momentum in the blogosphere and magazine world, there were still a few people who weren't quite sure who they were.

"Is that French?" one audience member queried as the Brazilian-born singer Rodrigo Amarante crooned in Portuguese on Evaporar.

The monitor troubles continued for Little Joy through their first two songs, squelching the subtle harmonies that put the band on the map. Little Joy bassist Fabrizio Moretti admitted fault; the band showed up too late to sound-check. By the third song the audience began chanting "Binki! Binki! Binki!" until singer Binki Shapiro's adorable vocals reached an adequate volume. From there, the soundboard finally reached nirvana with Little Joy. Moretti interacted playfully with the crowd between songs while the band played through their entire debut disc.
The lone cover of the night was "Walkin' Back to Happiness" by Helen Shapiro (no relation to Binki).

"There are a lot of Jews in the world," Shapiro joked before the band took this little known classic and made it sound as if it were just another cut off their album.

The set was shorter than most people wanted. That's often the case with fledgling bands who only have a single album to recite. Closing the night, Shapiro lamentfully wailed, "Sorry, that's all the songs we know!"

Coattails are a part of the American culture. Would Dogstar ever be mentioned without Keanu's Excellent Adventure? Those two musical titans--The Strokes and Los Hermanos--offer miles and miles of coattails for two talented musicians to ride upon.  Surprisingly, both Moretti and Amarante chose not to exploit their past fame for present recognition. Sometimes it works out in your favor that way. Obama didn't need public financing in the 2008 election, and last night, Little Joy didn't need their big brother bands to stuff The Lounge to the gills.

Critic's Notebook
Random Note: Moretti and his band-mates love to hug. Everyone.

Little Joy - "Unattainable"

Little Joy - "Keep Me In Mind"

--Cory Graves and Mike Harris