Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Silver Jews

First off, I think the Silver Jews have one of the greatest band names ever. I just love it when people (obviously those that aren't "with it") do a doubletake when I do a little namedropping. But let's be honest for a moment here. I didn't know jack shit about this band up until three months ago. I remember the name from perusing the aisles at the Exclusive Company - a name like this tends to stick in the mind - but that was the extent of it. So how is it that I came to be at the High Noon Saloon on April 15 to see this band?
The Silver Jews are described as "a beautiful mess of indie rock, country-rock and lo-fi with lyrics both witty and profound" by I have of late been branching out in terms of musical taste from my punk rock late teens to the indie rock that has recently made up much of my listening pleasure. But the main impetus for going to this show was initally the rarity of it. I'll explain: I saw a posting back in February on Muzzle of Bees that the Silver Jews would be playing a rare live show in Madison in support of the new album, Tanglewood Numbers. It turns out this was to be the first time this band had ever played in my fair city. In fact, they have never toured. This having caught my interest, I checked up on the band. It turns out the band, known as the Joos to their fans, is often considered a Pavement side-group, although this description is not entirely accurate. The band was founded by frontman David Berman (pictured above) and future Pavement guitarist Stephen Malkmus and drummer Bob Nastanovich. I listened to several song samples online and I decided that I would add the new album to The List. Fast forward a week or two. I am at B-Side and I see Tanglewood Numbers as I am picking out the new Nada Surf. I like it immensely. Some time after I got E Eugene drunk and convinced him that we needed to get tickets to see the Joos.

The day of the show came upon us, E and I made our way over to the High Noon a bit before the opening act came on. Neither of us could really remember who exactly was opening, and we ended up seeking out a concert poster on the wall, which duly informed us that Why? was the name of the band. After hearing the first song they played, E and I immediately moved up close for a better look. The group consisted of three guys playing various instruments. The music was eclectic, but the lyrics were the real mindfuck. Back in high school E and I began a continuing fascination with music that was a bit outside conventional songwriting norms. This wasn't a full-fledged phase that we went through, just a low grade simmering adoration of The Strange and Different (see Th' Legendary Shack Shakers).
Being of this frame of mind, E and I were immediately smitten by this band and their stage antics. The lead singer would from time to time grab a maracas and play it with a downward stabbing motion. The drummer, who sat immediately to the left of the lead singer, pounded on the skins with a fury that would have put most Hair Metal Bands to shame. Immediately after their set, I went over to the merch table to buy something. It turns out there were four albums to choose from. I hadn't anticipated this, but the guy at the table was quite helpful and directed me to their newest release Elephant Eyelash, which contained many of the songs we had heard that night. I believe the experience of seeing Why? actually supplanted the Joos in his opinion. While I did thoroughly enjoy Why?'s set, and I put Elephant Eyelash high up on the list of albums I have bought this year, the experience that was about to occur was bar none.

The Silver Jews came on led by David Berman to frenzied applause. Berman told the crowd that this was the 12th or 13th show they had ever played, and that they were "newer than the Arctic Monkeys." The band immediately broke into their set. As I only have one of their albums, I was pretty unfamiliar with their earlier songs. Still, I was very impressed by the band's tightness and enthusiasm. David Berman kept up a decent banter with the crowd, saying at one point that although he was almost universally called Dave Berman, he was not a fan of that moniker. Berman's wife, Cassie, played the bass and sang backing vocals in many of the songs. On one song, "The Poor, The Fair And The Good," she sang lead vocals. The band played for a little over an hour and a half before breaking for the encore. I was gratified to hear "Punks in the Beerlight" as the closing song, as it is my personal favorite from the new album. Afterwards, I even bought a concert tee and got a poster. I was just that impressed.
I don't know if I will ever become one of those indie rockers that has an ear to the ground and a finger on the pulse of the breaking music scene, but I will say that I felt like one of those dudes by going to this show. Not only did I enjoy it, I get to lord my indie cred above the rest of the world. OK, I haven't gotten to that extent yet, but it does feel good to be privvy to a scene that your friends and family are completely clueless to. When I was heavy into punk I felt the same way, expousing D.I.Y. and cursing corporate labels. I'll admit that I went to this show partially due to the fact that I then could say "I've SEEN the Silver Jews." However, I'm being perfectly honest when I say that, when the music started, none of this even remotely crossed my mind. I was completely engrossed in the music. And that is how it should be.


Blogger Belle of Madison said...

Another great review. Did you hang the poster on the ceiling above your bed?

9:08 AM  
Blogger wallrock said...

In the course of my tenure at my current apartment, I have hung exactly one thing up: a pizza coupon on the fridge. I have been waiting to move out of that place since the day I moved in.

12:25 PM  

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