Brand New is one of the more complex modern bands I like listening to. I got hooked to their dancey angst songs on their first album, “Your Favorite Weapon.” So when their second album, “Deja Entendu,” came out, I happily bought it and found out they’d changed. It took a few listens for the album to grow on me, but it had remarkable musicianship, particularly with a use of polyphony in vocals and music to artfully show a disjunction between actions and thoughts. Last Christmas, Peter bought me their newest CD, “Devil and God are Ranging Inside Me,” which is another departure from what they’d done before. It’s more atmospheric and moody. I haven’t listened to it enough to know it well, since I haven’t been in an atmospheric, moody mindset lately. Brand New is clearly not the kind of band that gets stuck in a musical rut, but not the kind of lose their audience, either. In the end, their music is still poetic distress with a great beat.
Peter and I managed to get tickets to their show last night at The Warfield. We’d gotten shut out of tickets to their sold-out show last year at The Fillmore, and we only managed to squeak into this show with Upper Balcony tickets (aka “nosebleed”) to this show. Peter and I have been going to shows at The Warfield regularly for years, but we’ve almost always been able to get floor tickets. Being so high up gave us a different perspective. In particular, I got to admire the architecture of The Warfield. It looks like an old opera or vaudeville house, though research says it simply started out as an opulent movie theatre in the 1920s. My cell phone pictures didn’t turn out so well, but here is one of Peter on the upper landing outside theatre proper, showing some off the neo-Baroque architecture, even though it doesn’t show off Peter at all:
We missed the first opening band, the Manchester Orchestra, though judging from the audience buzz, they put on a good show. Unfortunately, the next opening band, which we did see, Kevin De Whine*, was, as Peter put it, “suckadelic.” He played rambling incoherent songs, interspersed with rambling incoherent rants. The gist of one was that he’s fightin’ mad ’cause George W. Bush made him impotent, and he needed us all to pitch in with change at the merch table and help him buy carbon offsets. This was delivered with no tone of irony or humor, by the way. And his trick for getting his friends into the show was putting them on stage with him. At various points, we counted a violinist, 3 tambourine players, 3 drummers (not including the marching band bass drum), and a chubby Bez wannabe. The audience on the floor and all about me looked thoroughly bored. At least the set was short.
The audience cheered wildly as Brand New came on stage. I was really curious about how they’d arrange their manifold repertoire into one show. They did it quite nicely, by presenting the songs almost chronologically. Singer Jesse Lacey started the set alone on the stage singing a slow, stripped down version of their first hit, “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad,” which whirled into the full band song. After several songs from “Your Favorite Weapon,” (though not Peter’s favorite “Mix Tape”) the band moved on to complex songs from “Deja Entendu,” and closed it with the darker songs (complete with darker lighting) from “Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me,” neatly ending the set by having Jesse sing “Millstone,” slowly and moodily. I was happy I knew the band well enough to recognize all that, but Brand New clearly had a level of True Fans I hadn’t even imagined. For almost every song, there was a rich chorus of voices, singing beautifully and on tune (thank you, Brand New true fans) with all the songs. Sometimes the fans were even clearer and more in tune than Jesse.
After “Millstone,” though, the presentation kind of became a mess. Several audience members around us were already leaving–maybe they were already in the know, or had to catch a bus home. We thought Brand New was going to simply sing us a few random encore songs. But the songs weren’t few: I think they sang 5 more songs, and they weren’t random, because strangely, this band, which impresses me with its musical range, managed to sound like a band that only does the same kind of song, over and over. At one point, the violinist and one of the inept drummers from Kevin De Whine joined them, to our abject horror. If Brand New united with them, their ugly lovechild might be an atonal mumbling about how Hilliary Clinton’s indifference about the environment makes them cry. It wasn’t that bad, but a concert that had been so artfully presented ended on a down note for us.
I still love Brand New, and I know I will buy any music they publish in the future, but I don’t know if I’ll go see them in concert again. Or if I do, maybe I’ll do what the smart people did, and leave when the show proper is over.
*My deliberately incorrect spelling