Last Night: Scout Niblett at the hi-dive

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Scout Niblett, Oh My God, Wye Oak The Hi-Dive September 22, 2009 Better Than: Getting punched in the face. Sounds like a bad thing, I know, but think about it - that's kind of exciting, and I said the show was better than getting punched in the face. Besides, this is the only way I can think of to even begin to fit the Scout Niblett and Oh My God live experiences together in one metaphor.

This was such a strange bill. Wye Oak and Scout Niblett make sense together in that they both have wonderful female vocalists and play feedback and noise off those vocals. But Oh My God isn't even in the same conversation -- they're something like a more musically literate and more ballsy Electric Six, and they played between the other two, which made for a sort of disorienting evening.

The three did, however, provide a nice spectrum: Oh My God put on the best show of the night by far, but I would never buy their records. Scout Niblett live left me bored and a little angry, but I loved the actual music, and Wye Oak was somewhere in the middle -- a solid set of tunes played solidly. Wye Oak is Jenn Wasner on milky vocals and noisy guitar and Andy Stack, who may actually have eight arms and two brains, on drums and keys at the same time. Wasner sipped a giant mug of tea, and that was completely appropriate: It was cold outside and warm in the Hi-Dive, with Wye Oak playing the part of fireplace and cocoa. It's the sustain of the keys and Wasner's round voice that get to your soul, and the distortion freakouts, she jutting out her jaw and shaking her hair in front of her eyes and he wailing away on the kitchen sink, those just seem like the fury of a blizzard outside. Oh My God. Oh my God. Front man Billy O'Neill must be seen to be believed. Spotted stretching behind the amps in a grim reaper getup during sound check, I was ready to write off the gimmick as oversold. But then he took off the cloak to reveal the baby blue muscle tee, yellow fleece short shorts and ponytail underneath, which was sufficiently shocking. As for his performance... imagine Mark Walberg's character in Boogie Nights if the movie were about the gay porn industry. Seriously, the man is a cross between a bitchy high school cheerleader and a Cro-Magnon hunter, which is even weirder than it sounds. The music is all feel-good anthems done with tongue firmly in cheek (and elsewhere), straight up and down, if complex, rhythms on the drums, safe chord changes only and major chord shout along choruses. Oh it's loud and done incredibly well (keyboardist Ig had a J. Mascis joke for us at one point if that gives you any idea), but you don't get into this band for the music alone. Scout Niblett had the unenviable task of following that rockgasm. She seemed unperturbed, about that and everything else. Her stage banter was, for most of the night, exactly one word: "thanks," which she said cutely at the end of each song before anyone could actually start clapping. That, it should be said right away, was the only cute thing about her set. She plays alone on stage, her demeanor dark and disheveled and full of immense power. The music is simmering, seething words she sings while scowling, and the guitar in her hands is a metal volcano.

She played one song on the drums, where the lyrics mostly consist of the line "We're all going to die," over and over. She is an absolutely terrible drummer, which, as is so frequently the case, makes her a great drummer because it sounds vulnerable and human and all that. Compare her voice to whatever indie chick you want -- it's all valid, from Fiona Apple to Regina Spektor to Joanna Newsom, but that's an easy parallel and you can't head very far down that road. Go instead with the late '80s and early '90s grunge she likes to cover. This girl's got some seriously impressive collaborators (see: Will Oldham, Steve Albini), and she's making some next-level music, alarming and amusing and truly edgy all at once.

Right, but I wasn't feeling the show because she sort of stands still and stares at her guitar, which admittedly is making some righteous sounds. She couldn't have cared less who was there or what they thought or how they felt, and I sort of want bands I'm watching to be cognizant of those things. She closed her set with some teeth-chattering distortion and then, briefly, "Thank you, good night."

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