Panthers with Death from above 1979 and Vietnam at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), tonight (Thursday, December 9). $8.50. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Seeing the Brooklyn bad boys of the Panthers carousing with their pals in the Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio at various Williamsburg loft parties and drinking establishments wouldn't be at all uncommon. Vicious screamer Jayson Green and his transplanted Orchid rhythm section of Geoff Garlock and Jeff Salane, along with guitarists Justin Chearno and Kip Uhlhorn, are definitely part of the hip enclave's in crowd.
However, the Panthers haven't enjoyed anywhere near the mega media hype of their more famous scene pals. It's puzzling. It's not that their music sucks. On the contrary, the way they've incorporated psych and prog moves - thanks in part to the shrewd lineup addition of mellotron magician Simon Wojan and second percussionist Gerhart Fuchs - has given the Panthers an edge on those post-punk contemporaries who are content to relive the good old days of the Fall, Gang of Four and the Cure.
Certainly, they're far from fashion trend-setters, but their refusal to appear onstage in matching macrame ponchos or to sport pink leg warmers on their forearms for trips to the convenience store doesn't seem like reason enough for the dearth of positive press.
So what's the problem? Well, it could be that releasing their great new Things Are Strange disc on Vice - the Warner-distributed boutique label of the hipster journal Vice Magazine - might not have been such a brilliant idea from a promotional perspective.
Vice probably would've been running regular features on the Panthers non-stop if they weren't in business together. When the Panthers signed to Vice, they effectively cut themselves off from a crucial source of hype.
"This is the first time I've been on a label where I know for a fact that the people involved really like our band," explains Green from his Brooklyn pad. "They approached us, told us they liked what we were doing and have been very supportive as a label.
"But Vice Magazine won't review our record now. There was an article in the UK edition before we were signed, but nothing since. Not a fashion spread - nothing. In fact, I used to write reviews for Vice, but I was told I can't any more because it's a conflict of interest. So I lost a job for having one that pays even less."
Considering the influence that Vice Magazine wields within a certain white-belted community - namely, the people who buy precisely the sort of music the Panthers make - that loss of press push has to have had an effect on the Panthers' CD and merchandise sales.
But that's only part of their publicity problem, which was compounded when the Panthers hired their media cheerleader, Brandon Stosuy, to write the press one-sheet for Things Are Strange based on a glowing review of their Let's Get Serious (Dim Mak) EP he wrote for the influential Pitchfork site (www.pitchforkmedia.com) back in 2003. Evidently, Green didn't learn enough from losing his reviewer gig about how media outlets regard potential conflict of interest situations.
"We had to come up with a bio for the new disc, so Adam (Vice Records general manager Adam Shore) suggested we get the Pitchfork reviewer to write it because he seemed to have a good understanding of the band.
"So we called the guy, and he was all excited about it and wound up doing a great job, and we paid him for it. That was the worst mistake we've ever made, because the one person who really likes our stuff now can't write about us for Pitchfork, SPIN, Playboy or anywhere else. It was such a stupid move. I don't know what we were thinking."
The Panthers are already suffering the dire consequences of their actions.
"Well, Pitchfork passed our new disc to some other writer (Nick Sylvester) who gave it a wishy-washy 'Eh, so what' kind of review, like 6.2 out of 10, which for a band is the worst that could happen. You want critics to love your stuff or absolutely hate it.
"The kicker is that the same dude just raved about the Death from Above 1979 disc, giving it an 8.3, effectively saying that it's the best thing Vice has ever released and the only band with real substance on the label. Did he even listen to their lyrics?"