The Fluid at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey


It was a painfully cold night in northern New Jersey, but the legendary Maxwell's was plenty warm, and any thoughts of harsh weather were eclipsed once the show got started. Opening, oddly enough, was Overcasters from Denver. The band had been invited to share the stage with the Fluid on two East Coast dates, including this gig and the date the following night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and probably should have been given the middle slot over a relatively unknown local band.

Overcasters opened with "Expect the Worst," and the iridescent character of that instrumental set the stage for what was to come. For this show, videographer Shane Williams created an especially effective string of spirals, splashes of color and movement and abstract imagery to augment the mood of the music, utilizing cloudy blues, muted reds, vibrant pastels and shadings suggesting depth and flow. Maxwell's is a room smaller than even the hi-dive, but the sonic character of that square chamber, expertly dialed in by a sound guy specifically brought in by the Fluid, made Overcasters sound better than it ever has. "Hey Hope" sounded uplifting and bracing all at once, and "Electrocution" lived up to its name, ending the set in a sustained burst of wails and thick rhythms. New bassist Ed Marshall added a more dynamically textured flavor to the act's sound than it previously enjoyed, and he seamlessly rocked along with the rest of the band.

The King Left, at first, had me wondering why it was on the bill at all, because I'd seen more than my fair share of uninspired "dance punk" bands out of Denver alone. It was kind of like getting to see a non-moody version of Interpol at first, but as the set went on, I heard more than a passing dose of Pavement and Sonic Youth in the act's overall sound. And yet there was plenty of variation in the songwriting to make the music interesting. The singer had an excellent voice, and at least none of the members of this outfit played with a cooler-than-thou attitude. The drummer was absolutely solid and refreshingly devoid of flash. What I could discern of the lyrics seemed intelligent, and the band's final song had great atmospheric dynamics between the two guitarists. Sure, these guys haven't quite outgrown their influences, but the drift of their songwriting shows promise.

Sometime during Overcasters' set, Kurt Ottaway said something about the Fluid being the greatest rock-and-roll band of all time. And when the band opened its set like a bomb with "Cold Outside," such hyperbole seemed entirely warranted. Everyone in the group is in his forties, but the Fluid, on this night, could have leveled any other rock-and-roll band I've ever seen. The sheer force of "Candy" was irresistible and maddening. During "Black Glove," John Robinson rode the crowd for the first time in the set, and when he was dumped back on stage, he rolled forward and leapt up like Iggy or Jim Morrison and went immediately back into the song. "Fool's Rule" was surprisingly fiery and darkly aggressive - far more so than the album version. The set ended with one of the act's best songs, "Is it Day," but the guys weren't done with us yet and came back on for truly inspired performances of "Static" and "Twisted & Pissed." During the latter, Robinson rode the crowd to about the middle of the room before being carried back to the stage. It seems as though a lot of "rock and roll" bands these days do it as a pose, an imitation, whereas the Fluid embodied what rock is all truly about: freedom, inspiration, good will, fun, creativity and catharsis. Without an ounce of self-consciousness or an attempt to ape the past, the Fluid have come back to show us how it's done right.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I'm from Aurora, just like the Fluid, and there's little in Aurora you can be proud of. The Fluid fills that bill nicely.
Random Detail: Maxwell's, the venue, is attached to a somewhat large restaurant with incredibly good food.
By the Way: Someone please do a cool reissue of the Fluid's entire catalogue. Many bands deserve the red carpet treatment, and it's about time it happened for these guys.