Chris Garneau, Marissa Nadler and El Perro Del Mar @ Bowery Ballroom, 3-1-07
|Sometimes, you just shouldn't vouch. It was my friend Evan's birthday, and we'd gathered the troops, clinked glasses and made our toasts at an Irish bar's happy hour. But then as we started to disperse, I found out Evan didn't have any plans to commemorate his evening. The Asian markets had just plummeted, and he'd been pulling all-nighters to salvage what he could of his accounts. "Come on," I insisted. "It's your birthday and it'll be a really good show. You'll have fun." He finally agreed, but in retrospect, maybe he shouldn't have.|
I was ostensibly going to check out first opener Chris Garneau, though I was also interested in the other two acts. I'd liked his dreary piano ballad "Castle-Time" and the video for "Relief." I was intrigued that Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart had helped get him signed to Absolutely Kosher. It all seemed pretty promising. And I was still encouraged when Garneau came out and sang a delicate, hushed piano ballad that sounded like "Castle-Time" but wasn't. Well, he certainly has a style, I thought. But the more he played, the more annoying it became, as he approached every song in that same tragic, overaffected, wrist-slitting tone. They were all sad and quiet in identical ways; I could see Evan drifting off, eyes closing out of exhaustion and frustration rather than reverence. The very few times Garneau branched out, it seemed like a positive step, whether it was using his backup band to create a fuller sound or employing a different part of his vocal range. But even his incorporation of a cover, Elliott Smith's "Between The Bars," couldn't rescue his depressing, comatose performance. As Evan put it, "This guy makes Elliott Smith seem really happy in comparison."
Up next was Marissa Nadler, who sings a kind of witchy, mystical, haunted folk. Her voice was indeed pretty and enthralling, but like Garneau, Nadler rarely strayed from a fairly narrow formula. She also kept cutting into the mood by repeatedly stopping to give the sound guy instructions in the middle of her songs. To her credit, she did do a pretty decent cover of Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," but I found her own songs harder to distinguish. Midway through her set, while I was praying for some break in the pattern, Evan declared that he was heading home. I implored him to stick around for El Perro Del Mar, who'd be nowhere near this slow or soporific. But with eyelids sliding down, he said he wouldn't make it. My credibility was shot.
I wish now that he had stuck around though. El Perro Del Mar, AKA Swedish songstress Sarah Assbring, more than made up for the weak openers with a knockout performance. I had my doubts she was ready to headline a venue of this size or that the music even required it. But as she kicked off, it was apparent how tight and accomplished this set would be. She had enough charisma and charm to pack a stadium, performing her dour throwback pop with real freshness and necessity. Without even doing all that much, she had command of the crowd, making every note count and every song special. When it came time for the obligatory "hit," she said matter-of-factly, "Okay, we're ready to play 'God Knows' now." For a sweet, unfettered four minutes, we all bounced around, sang along and celebrated. It took a while to get there, but finally we were remembering the electric charge that music could provide, the kick that only a kinetic performance could sustain. Evan was long gone, probably asleep by then, but I'd like to think we were kind of celebrating for him in absentia.
* MP3: "God Knows (You Gotta Give To Get)" - El Perro Del Mar from El Perro Del Mar
* MP3: "Candy" - El Perro Del Mar from El Perro Del Mar [Buy it]
Tags: Chris Garneau, Marissa Nadler, El Perro Del Mar, Bowery Ballroom, MP3