The Plug Awards @ Irving Plaza, 2-10-07, pt. 2
(Pt. 1 is here.)
David Cross continued his hilarious streak while everything was falling apart around him. His defining feature, that he clearly and proudly didn't give a fuck, was a large part of his success. He was able to roll with whatever went down, soak it in with a undisguised smirk and fire off some wry, rude, on-point observation. He noted that with all the flubs, missed cues, failing skits and technical difficulties that it was pretty much "pants-shitting time" backstage.
The biggest miss of the night had to be the much-hyped "iPod battle," where two teams of wannabe DJs would take turns playing tracks. In reality, they mostly stood around, waiting for their equipment to work, for the sound guys to turn up the volume, for their indecisive fingers to rotate their iPod dials. And even when their selected songs would come up, it was a big, yawning shrug of a non-event. One team tried to rally the crowd by bouncing up and down and grinning idiotically; the other team had worn masks and capes while bootyshaking and throwing handfuls of glitter in the air. The whole thing had about as much momentum behind it as a Joe Biden presidential campaign, and frankly wouldn't pass for entertainment in my basement on a Tuesday night let alone at the prestigious Plugs. The crowd was quick to catch on, booing vociferously and often. It got such a terrible reception that a planned second round was cancelled on the spot. (In the spirit of mismanagement, the organizers later tried to reinstate it, but we started booing again so loudly that they had no choice but to re-cancel.)
That was the most glaring error, but there were oh so many others to choose from. At one point, a giant puppet of David Cross came out. It could've been really funny or at least interesting, but the premise was promptly ruined by a pointless, awful attempt at a skit. Later in the night, another skit in which Cross supposedly gets into an impromptu argument with an audience member derailed because her mic wasn't working. I was close enough to hear the bit, and the mic not working was seriously a blessing. But even after that was abundantly clear to everyone in hearing range, her mic was fixed and the fake argument started again. When the now-familiar boos began to grow louder and louder, Cross pretty much summed up the ethos of the night with, "Hey, fuck you, guys. I know this skit isn't funny, but we're going to finish it anyway so fuck you." (That's a paraphrase. The original included more "fucks.") And let's not forget that when the late J Dilla won Artist of the Year, what should have been a honorific moment was quickly ruined. A video of his mom thanking God for giving her such a wonderful son was shown with sped-up audio so that she sounded like Minnie Mouse. People laughed; any remaining poignancy died.
All that pretty much left to enjoy were the remaining performances, and even that was a mixed bag. One of my favorite artists and my main reason for attending these awards, El-P, was up next. He came out strong with "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')," attacking the beats with trademark hunger. It seemed like he was growing into performing, his act adopting a greater showmanship than usual. But his calls for people to get their hands up went largely unmet. It was pretty evident from the reaction that the crowd preferred indie rock over hip-hop. (When J Dilla won his award, the girl next to me asked her friend, "What is he? Like a rapper or something?") In my totally biased opinion though, I thought he killed it and I couldn't wait to see how he'd follow up. He chose to launch into another new song from I'll Sleep When You're Dead. But even with the addition of a hot horn section, the crowd seemed unable to move or put their hands in the air. Then, instead of playing two more songs as planned, El-P and crew took off. I couldn't tell if it was because of newly imposed time constraints or the lukewarm response, but David Cross clearly wasn't in the know. He had to race panting up to the stage.
The seven-nominations-zero-wins Silversun Pickups were up next and I was not excited. (As in, maybe we should just have that second iPod battle instead of this.) There was very little I liked about their debut LP Carnavas, but I tried to approach the band with an open mind. They certainly seemed very sweet, with singer Brian Aubert joking that he was honored to have Deerhoof opening for him. And though I didn't particularly enjoy the music, I didn't mind it as much as I was expecting either. The big criticism leveled against the group is that they're derivative and true enough, they unmissably are. But I guess it can also be fun in a way to pretend it's still 1993 and the grungy plaid shirt Aubert was wearing came from a thrift store in Seattle. Maybe it's before July and Siamese Dream hasn't even been released yet. Back in the present, the one aspect that did appeal to me was Aubert screaming. It was a lot more dynamic than his singing, and it got my attention every time. If they ever consider reinventing themselves as a screamo outfit, they can count on me as a fan.
Batting last in the lineup was Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks. They were set to receive the Plug Impact Award, the apparent indie version of a Lifetime Achievement Award. Of course, in keeping with the tenor of the show, there had to be one more long, inscrutable skit to get through. This one, Inside The Musician's Studio, had a lot of potential as well, with Cross as unctuous Jimmy "J.J." Lipton interviewing Malkmus. As usual, Cross was pretty funny, but Malkmus, though game and sporting a child-molester mustache, went surprisingly laugh-free.
From there, Malkmus took the stage, Jicks-backed and with Sleater-Kinney/Quasi's Janet Weiss on drums. It was a typically quality set, but a full three-and-a-half hours into the awards, my feet were aching, my back was aching, I was tired of being pushed around and I was no longer in the mood for the band's loose, rambling detours. In more ideal circumstances, I would've noticed their masterful interplay or how ably they adapted songs for a live setting. I would've rejoiced that they decided to play "Jo-Jo's Jacket" and that it sounded as awesome as ever. But by the end, I was just hoping that there'd be no more songs and certainly no more skits to come, that someone would have the decency to finally pull the plug on this night.
* MP3: "Everything Must Go" (Demo) - El-P
* MP3: "Smithereens (Stop Cryin')" - El-P from I'll Sleep When You're Dead [Preorder it]
* MP3: "Pencil Rot" - Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks from Face The Truth
* MP3: "It Kills" - Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks from Face The Truth [Buy it]
* MP3: "Do These Effectively Hide My Thunder?" - Tobias Funke
* Artist Website: El-P
* Artist Website: Stephen Malkmus
Tags: Plug Awards, Irving Plaza, David Cross, El-P, Silversun Pickups, Stephen Malkmus, MP3