The Constantines @ Luna Lounge, 4-26-07
We could've been in a basement anywhere in college-town America. Since I first caught the Cons in, tellingly enough, the basement of a sushi restaurant in my college town in 2003, they've reliably put on shows that feel secret and intimate, with a hunger and fervency you usually only see in debut-album upstarts. Even with nothing to prove (let alone an album to support), the band plays zealously enough to evoke images of swill beer in Solo cups, hand-drawn, photocopied handbills taped to lampposts, and starving rock connoisseurs exiled to shitty vans and crashing on couches.
Last week, at Luna Lounge, the Constantines extended their streak of great performances. Opening with "Draw Us Lines," which sounds explicitly designed to launch a show, they started out strong if a little uneven. It took a few songs for the band members to truly click and for the crowd to warm up. From there, as they began to work backward to the older material, the songs ranged from very good to the best I've ever heard. "Nighttime/Anytime (It's Alright)" felt particularly amazing, with its aggressive guitar and desperate vocals juxtaposed with an interlude of sneaker-stomping, a soulful rhythm break, and a sliver of audience singalong. But there were plenty of other sure-footed standouts in the mix, including "Arizona" and "Seven A.M.," which both sounded meatier and more intent than ever. Even a relatively subdued song like "Thieves" was able to stand out, gaining new muscle thanks to a rocky, fuzzed-out makeover.
Still, the most exciting development of the evening was the preview of two songs slated to appear on the next album. I've been admittedly nervous about how the Cons will follow up Tournament of Hearts and if their sound will mellow out too much. From what I heard though, that shouldn't be a problem. While Bry Webb's "Hard Feelings" and Steve Lambke's "Shower of Stones" are distinct from earlier songs, the defining Cons verve is unmissable in them. "Hard Feelings," which I preferred that night, has a tangible classic-rock influence with an almost guitar-smashing, stadium-packing grandiosity to it. It gives the band a chance to dig in and strut, an invitation they all—most notably drummer Doug MacGregor and bassist Dallas Wehrle—obviously relished. "Shower of Stones" (about that famous Sasquatch hailstorm perhaps?) is also quite good, with a drenching guitar riff and a moody weightiness that suggests the impending creep of bad weather. It'll be interesting to hear how that one transitions to record, but I can definitely see it creeping up as a surprise favorite. Either way, consider my concerns hereby detracted and my anticipation for the new album all the more urgent.
Another notable factor that night was how much fun the band seemed to be having. In both this appearance and last year's show in San Francisco, they've come across as a looser, happier, more comfortable unit. In early dates, they felt more serious and efficient, providing fire to spare but little in the way of eye contact. This improvement became especially pronounced during the encore, brought out by the band's tradition of ending on a cover. This time around, the finale of choice was AC/DC's "Thunderstruck," and they were all grinning, jamming out, owning the stage, clearly in love with the music. The crowd joined in too, energized, unstoppable, riding on the high of sharing in a great night. Thought it was packed, it still felt like we were in on something private. It felt like we were experiencing the Cons before the record deals or the records, when they were thrashing away in garages and ten-person rooms and Molson- and sweat-perfumed basements in Guelph. The only difference is that, even with all their success since, they still manage to somehow get better and sound hungrier with every performance.