Sunday, July 15, 2007

Saturday at High Noon: Redwalls, Robbers on High Street, Baby Teeth

The end of a tour is always a happy occasion, regardless of the outcome. If it's been a successful tour, a band can use it to fuel a jaunt into the studio. If it's been a horrible tour, at least they have more time to sleep. Yet, for the audience, a good tour means an even more stellar finale.

Baby Teeth, Robbers on High Street and The Redwalls ended their east coast tour in Madison, much to the audience's confusion. Not only did Madison seem a geographically incorrect ending for an east coast tour, but High Noon Saloon seemed a bit underwhelming for a band that has twice played Lollapalooza and opened for Oasis. Of course, ever since the Redwalls were dropped from Capitol records following their merger with Virgin, low-profile gigs have become a bit more common.

Baby Teeth started off the show with a sampling of new and old, switching between 70's style AOR-pop and dance-rock influences. With lead singer Abraham Levitan
(or Pearly Sweets, as he used to call himself) pivoting to the sound of his own prog-rock piano. The 70's pop inclination prevails with flourishes of three part harmonies, but is ripped out of convention with switching styles, mid-song tempo changes and tendencies to spin-off into prog-rock meditations. Songs off the latest album, "The Simp" were most represented here, with the danceable, but still over-the-top, "Swim Team" getting the best reception. "Diaghalev was Right" was another unusually bright spot in the show, with it's bastardized rockabilly refrain working well with against the obscure reference. The band did what is hardest for an opening band to do: get people to dance on an empty floor. The music was silly enough at times to warrant inching into the spotlight.

It's hard to pin down the band's musical style when they jumped around so much. Afterwards, I talked to Levitan about their approach. He said they started out trying to do a modern rendition of 70's era Hall and Oates, but tried a bit more of an experimental approach on their last album, where each band member wrote a song with the same title "Heather" and came together without anyone else in the band knowing what the other was crafting. The current album is an mixture of both those approaches. Levitan said he was a bit sleep deprived from the tour, but was planning on delaying rest a little further until Sunday night, as he planned on attending the last day of Pitchfork.

Robbers on High Street took the stage, attempting to follow up the diverse Baby Teeth but instead serve the purpose of tiding over the audience with Redwalls-lite. They were certainly not as pop-blues as Redwalls, channeling something closer to 60's era pop on songs like "Crown Victoria". However, songs like "The Fatalist" broke out of the 60's spin and moved with far more staccato guitar chops as to make it a candidate for an indie song best suited on a Spoon album. The instrumentation certainly should be nuanced to catch in the midst of a small crowd, as became obvious during a jam session when Jarvis Cocker lookalike Morgan King took out his trumpet only to fumble the first few notes.

Most of the audience wasn't concerned with Robbers on High Street. A young couple spent the entire show dancing in front of the band with drinks in hand and swinging them around to give everyone a taste. The spectacle of drunken dancing/groping forced upon a cringing audience was enough to distract from the show onstage.

The best was yet to come, however. Once the Baren brothers made their way to the stage, patrons filled the front of the stage with adoring looks. Justin Baren gave the audience similar smiles and winks, placing his bass as close to one starstruck fan girl's face as possible. His dapper three-piece suit was saturated with cologne intoxicating enough to draw in the most uninterested of spectators.

Enough about Justin's pheromones, though. The set mixed enough of the old favorites such as "Thank You" and "Build a Bridge" with new material off their upcoming LP to be released in October.

The new material sounds tighter and more refined than their previous efforts. "Modern Diet" acknowledges their British Invasion roots with a chorus that affirms it: "They say it's all been done before." It may have been, but the Redwalls are locked in such a perfectly layered pop-groove that who could notice?
Some songs definitely sound influenced by New York garage rock but they never subside into minimalist guitar instrumentation. "Put Us Down" has very much the steady guitar and metronome drumming of a Strokes song like "Last Nite," but the vocals are still Beatles-esque enough to keep it on the European end of the Atlantic Ocean rather than the American side.

Despite that slight difference in style, the Redwalls may have started to turn their style into something far less meandering than what they created on Universal Blues or De Nova. "In the Time of Machines" marches on with an instrumental precision unseen by the band, all while the drums and guitar kick into overdrive as Baren proclaims "All they want is you!" Certainly, there is a lot more metaphor and 50s futuristic leanings here as "They Are Among Us" shimmied and shook to what sounded like a soundtrack for a surf rock alien invasion. Yet, it never sounded like a joke, as the camp nature of the song was trumped by the urgency in Baren's vocals and guitar work.

By the time Build a Bridge came along, the audience was theirs. They came out for a three song encore which included a pleasantly surprising cover of New Order's Bizarre Love Triangle, followed by Thank You and Deep in the Heart.

to celebrate the end of this tour, Robbers on High Street (except for the lead singer) joined the Redwalls on stage for the encore, playing whatever they could find (as you can see in these pictures). While it may be uncertainty here on out for the Redwalls - given their tentative release of the new LP - tonight, they seamlessly blended their old favorites with new hits in a successful and energetic end to their tour.

Redwalls Setlist:
Love Her
Back Together
Put Us Down
What a Shame
Edge of the Night
Don't you Wanna Come Out
Game of Love
Song 1#
On My Way
They Are Among Us
Falling Down
Modern Diet
Build a Bridge
In the Time of Machines
Bizarre Love Triangle
Thank You
Deep in the Heart


Abraham said...

thanks for the kind post, jason. we had a great time playing this show and getting to meet you. it was great being on tour with the redwalls and robbers... I never got tired of listening to either band. (I agree with you that madison was a curious ending for an east coast tour, but at least it DID get me home in time for the last day of pitchfork, where I got to see a ferocious set by jamie lidell!) hope to see you soon, abraham from baby teeth

Ace Athena said...

No matter how confusing the tour conclusion was or how "lite" one band is over the other, you can't beat that Rickenbacker sound. There's an article about The Redwalls and that Rick sound at

Anonymous said...

does anyone happen to know what that cologne might be?