A Majestic Story of White Snow and Belts and Cues
Gunilla Klingberg - Mantric Mutation [detail] (2006)Let me tell you this story like you're my grandchild. A long time ago... before YouTube, before .m4as and .mp3s and .movs, before videos were downloadable and streamable and embeddable... I used to tape music videos off of television. Much like cassette mix-tapes whose transitions were choppy at the ends because of radio intros and fades to commercials, the videos were often branded with the station in the bottom right corner and in the case of MTV, quite obnoxiously. My most beloved of these grainy VHS tapes was recorded over winter break of my Freshman year of college and played repeatedly over the subsequent semester and years. Few things in my life have inspired more impromptu dance parties or indoor toilet paper messes than the protruding bass, climbing guitar, and wailing scream of the first video on that tape, Bandages by Hot Hot Heat.
So on Tuesday night, after Louis XIV celebrated their album release by spilling violins and raw guitar from their rock pockets like Jack White in alt porn with black electric-tape over his white nipples... I was excited to see Hot Hot Heat live. The band uncaged its dance rebellion onto Talk to Me, Dance with Me with a full sound and a full crowd that made the Majestic Theatre proud. Lead singer Steve Bays' passionate over-annunciation has always sounded a bit like a cartoon character to me, but this quality was accentuated when he shook his curly afro and a mist of sweat expired in the multi-colored lights like a Gatorade commercial. He was the quintessential tight-jeaned, v-necked, white-belted frontman proclaiming that it was one of those nights where he couldn't catch a buzz, but realized when he stepped on stage that he was too drunk to play a show.
The stage was set with a white keyboard affixed on two Grecian pillars painted white, looking like an alter to 2003 dance rock. Steve's passionate preaching rocked it back and forth like trying to push a car out of the mud. And the crowd played the role too, responding to the hymns with the white male headbob and indie toe tap in lieu of kneeling. They rejoiced at the sound of the deepest toms starting Bandages and the short set drew to a close with crowd-pleaser Goodnight Goodnight. The band was much more polished than I remember and just the right mix of rock and impressive, much like the mood set by the Majestic itself. Scott, one of the venue owners, was even helping move equipment off the stage between sets.
Hot Hot Heat transitioned perfectly to The Editors by huddling outside the backstage door (which was visible from the crowd) to smoke in the below-zero winter. Only a hospital would've been sadder. Tom Smith, lead singer of the Editors, emerged immediately as the focal point of the show with his deep Interpol plodding vocal and emotive gestures adorning the expansive sound spread over a structure of bass drum eighth-notes. At points, he seemed to glue his lips to the mic, hyperextend his neck, and force the words through the wires. The British contortionist antics juxtaposed his serious tone and continued as he flopped his arm over his head and climbed onto of the piano to deliver the impassioned Bullets like a machine gun. This sound is what flashing stage lights are for.
I got a chance to catch up with the Editors at the Great Dane, where they scampered across the street immediately after the show. Apparently the guys are avid pool sharks, Chris and Russ schooling Ed and Tom like they university buddies they were from "you wouldn't know, but Stafford University". They joked about how every show since Florida has been colder than they're used to, but that didn't stop them from spending their day off walking up and down State Street. The shows have also been less attended than the 10,000 crowds they draw in England - a fact they were very humble about even as a drunk bar-goer asked if they were "Hot Hot Heat, or that other band". But they maintained that they were very pleased with the show, perhaps a bit like the first Jameson shot they explored with bit of hesitance.
Shedding their rockstar-ness and black arctic jackets revealed a real accessibility that is tough to notice in their flawless execution of the arena rock genre. But they would have fit right in with air-guitars while watching pirated videotapes of Hot Hot Heat in between lofted beds in my Freshman dorm room. They're a talented act, clearly preparing for a long run, but in need of differentiation from genre cliches that are frankly, past their prime. Oh and then I left the bar and walked home down Willy Street, uphill both ways for miles in the below-zero temperatures and drifting snow... so you could have this review, my grandchild.