Over the weekend: The Don'ts & Be Carefuls, Pep*Squad, Josephine and the Mousepeople at the Meadowlark

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The Don'ts & Be Carefuls, Pep*Squad, Josephine and the Mousepeople, Lungs They Burn, I Sank Molly Brown
Friday, December 4, 2009
The Meadowlark
Better Than:
Butt Shakin'

So it was mostly a big dance party at the Meadowlark, the sort of night where you show your approval with abandon and sweat. That starts with the last band, The Don'ts & Be Carefuls, who were releasing their EP and attracting the most followers. Their musical mission statement might well read: Don't Think Do Shots Dance. And so it went.

I Sank Molly Brown was on warm-up lap duty for this show, but the guys played like it was midnight instead of 9 p.m. They work looming bass lines and stilted drums underneath a thin, urgent/panicked vocal line. The guitar comes shooting through to the forefront as though through a thin tube, and that guitar is the best thing Molly Brown's got going. Don't take it the wrong way when I say they picked up a few tricks from mall punk. I don't mean the embarrassing sentiment or throwing up vowels -- no, I'm talking about the hooks that got that stuff on millions of first-generation iPods to begin with. I Sank Molly Brown can turn your head with a riff once every other song, which is impressive.

Lungs They Burn have the sort of name you might assume would come with the worst parts of that mall punk sound, but go in with that assumption and you'll come out shocked -- these dudes are in the business of warmth and they're closer to George Harrison than Pete Wentz. Forget the "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" cover -- the Beatles affinity became apparent about twenty seconds in. They channel the vocal track through something -- reverb whatever else, and it comes out like a foghorn, like the later sounds of the boys from Liverpool, perfected half a century ago. But Lungs They Burn is not so much a nostalgia trip to old-school pop. It seems fairer to imagine them in the context of a different nostalgia -- the one we'll have for today. This is six drinks in music, when the bros are starting to share their true feelings about each other. They have a track featuring a saxophone, and it is played in a sort of bleating manner so that initially the sound resembles an accordion, then you adjust and it becomes it's own color on the golden sound of the band, and suddenly they seem like the hot corner of some cold country far from here.

The Josephine and the Mousepeople bandwagon will be out of control before too long here. The group doesn't have a CD and, relatively speaking, its profile is still pretty low. But the outfit was also the night's safest bet to turn to whoever was standing nearby before the set started and say, "This band is so awesome," and have that person tap you on the shoulder two songs and tell you how right you were. There's an immediate appeal that takes a minute to figure out. They have a relatively simple formula, after all -- it's just tracks looping and grooving drumbeats and Avi Sherbill singing simple phrases on repeat. But this is the sort of music that props you up and quickens your pulse and makes you realize that if you don't do something right fucking now, it might never happen. Sherbill is a big part of this: His eleven-on-a-ten-point-scale stage presence is more uninhibited than the rest of us will ever be. He stands on the balls of his feet and presses against the crowd and spreads his arms wide and falls to the ground, and it is hard not to let the music take you like it takes him. Watch eagerly for that debut album sometimes next year.

Pep*Squad is going for sexy in a slinky yet ironic way -- or at least it seemed that way until the band added a guitarist midway through the set. Maybe it's true, anyway; certainly the bass remained the loudest thing in the mix, and the keys and drums played lines that might as well have been wearing fishnets. I have no proof of this, obviously, but this is a band that seems to prize form over function, or maybe I mean image over expression. Either way, the act gets big props for the "Just What I Needed" cover, even if they did skimp on that drum roll at the beginning.

The Don'ts and Be Carefuls won't escape the dance pop label, but if it isn't unfair, it's at least misleading. They don't so much seem to have ripped the formula of the synth-drunk '80s scene. They seem to have listened to pop and ska and punk and indie, and when they started playing music, they somehow arrived at a sound that enough resembles Hot Hot Heat in a New Order costume, for us writerly types to slap on that label and move on. But there's more here -- listen to "You've Been Warned," a really good song no matter who you are, and in the breaks, at the beginning and on the bridge, you can hear a sort of seriousness and clarity that makes it impossible to dismiss these guys as just another anything. The EP will run you $5, and you'll get your money's worth with "You've Been Warned" and "Insomnia" alone, and "Simple Miracles" will spend some time stuck in your head.

Personal Bias: Going in I was neutral on everyone but Josephine and the Mousepeople, who, as you may have gathered, I am a fan of.
Random Detail: There is a mannequin head on a speaker against the ceiling to the right of the stage and it is horrifying.
By The Way: This was Don'ts & Be Careful's keyboardist Tom's final show. They're looking for a replacement. Hit them on their MySpace if you're him or her.

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