Friday, 6 September 2013

885 MERCHANDISE, Dallas Don’t, Jeff Wode, Oxford Jericho Tavern, Thursday 5 September 2013

The Autumn gig schedule eases into action with another jaunt to my regular 80’s stamping ground, the Jericho Tavern! This tripette was prompted after Merchandise, my favourite new band of last month’s Reading Festival return, announced a gig in the fabled old upstairs room, so my lovely wife kindly rearranged her plans so I could once again avail myself of this new Tampa band’s challenging brand of 80’s influenced shimmering and effervescent rock. Since seeing da Merch (as probably no-one but myself refers to them), I’d done my due diligence, picking up their last 2 CDs and finding them deliciously languid and libidinous collections of often stretched but never over-indulgent numbers, all metronomic and absorbing, sweeping and swooping from refrain to riff, unconstrained by the usual verse-chorus etc. song structure, and sonically similar to the moody, textured atmospherics of Kitchens Of Distinction combined with chugging repetitive refrains, similar to but more guitar-based than, say, Stereolab. A real intelligence and creativity at work, so I was looking forward to seeing them at close quarters.

I hit the road after the kids went to bed and wandered into the sparsely attended upstairs room as first support Jeff Wode took the stage at 8.30. A young 3-piece, they had one half-decent mid-set number which was subsumed in a morass of thrash punk workouts and 6th form common room idiocy (a song about David Suchet consisting of his name being bellowed over the same riff at various tempos? Really?). Also the iridescently shirted vocalist couldn’t sing for toffee, although the final bellowing “Louie Louie” rather suited his “vocals”, actually… A shame, really, as the guitarist could actually play. He’s wasted there… Thankfully, better was to come with main support Dallas Don’t. A 4-piece whom I originally assumed were fey jangle-poppers, due to the presence of a female guitarist, but instead played some very good muscular proto surf/psych punk. The vocalist also had a strident stream-of-consciousness vocal style similar to 70’s punk bands, suiting their stuff. “We’ve got CDs if you like what we’re doing; if you don’t know hard feelings,” he announced at their final, thrashier number – I did, so I got one from the bassist who confirmed, “we like to play loud.” Good for you!

I had a quick chat with the main Merchandise guys Carson Cox and Dave Vassalotti, ironically at their merch stand (!), prior to their taking the stage at 10. After languid, lugubrious opener “In Nightmare Room”, they kicked it up a notch with a superb “Anxiety’s Door”, the stand-out track on their current “Totale Night” CD. A metronomic groove on record, this was however powerful and venomous “live”, with the impossibly handsome vocalist Cox, looking like the rock star from central casting all in black denim and with Ray-Bans perched precariously atop his blond flick, growling in his resonant baritone, and angular partner Vassalotti throwing shapes like a young Lucky Jackson. Oh yes. I just used a Gravel Pit comparison… And despite the more free-form structure of their songs, this one was nevertheless relentlessly hooky; “you’re the only one now, the only one now…”

“This is for the dancers at the front; not wishing to start a rivalry, but the front of the house is better than the back!” Cox announced before the lengthy, slow-burn “Winter’s Dream”, then “Time” saw me really get rocking down the front to this delicious loose-limbed mutant dance, with Cox’ deep vocals again a feature, more upfront than on CD where they’re occasionally submerged in reverb, like a distant, drowsy, half remembered dream. A couple of older, rockier, more seething and sneering but no less absorbing numbers brought a superb set to a close, although the band were persuaded back for an encore by the rapturous applause from this by-now respectfully full Jericho; “alright, we’ll do one more, but we’re not going to enjoy it!” joked Cox, clearly relishing his work throughout. Excellent stuff overall from a young but very inventive band with real potential.

And nice guys too, as Vassalotti kindly wrote me out a set-list afterwards, and I had a lengthier chat outside with an ebullient Cox and a fellow punter. I left him with handshakes and fist-bumps, plus a copy of my gig blog card and, on request, my work business card. Young Mr. Cox was amused by my being a “Horticulture Merchandiser”, but sorry, Carson , it doesn’t mean I can get you any weed!

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