MODERNBOYS MODERNGIRLS EP release with DEBASER at the Bovine, October 14. Tickets: $5. Attendance: 242. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
Playing the bovine can be a trial by fire for a band. Not that there's anything wrong with the venue. Quite the opposite - it's a go-to destination for blistering, messy rock.
But with a stage barely raised above ground level, no real separation between the audience and the band, wall-mounted screens showing cult rock videos and a crowd of club regulars, out-of-towners and newly legal students itching to jack up their Jäger tolerance, a musician's gotta work his or her ass off to hold people's attention.
Showmanship is key. That's something dark rock quartet Debaser had in mind as they thundered through their set. Frontman Luke Higginson appeared to be channelling some strange hybrid of David Usher, Jeff Martin and Muse main man Matthew Bellamy as he howled and twitched through mouthfuls of face-obscuring hair.
Their set was epic in scope, a wall-of-sound assault that felt like it'd work better echoing off the steel ducts of the Kool Haus or rattling the Opera House balcony than squeezed into the sardine-packed Bovine.
The odd thing was that the songs themselves, stripped down, weren't all that massive - Debaser's writing, actually, could use a little beefing up. Instead, guitarist Nevin Douglas feverishly fed every note he played through about 25 different effects pedals, resulting in a set that was fuzzily bombastic enough to cause even the most wasted dudes to watch the band in wobbly silence but five minutes later left you with little impression of the songs you'd just heard.
Headliners Modernboys Moderngirls seemed to get similarly sidetracked by showmanship. On disc - their new Edge Of My Blade EP, which they launched Saturday night - the four-piece comes off as a stylishly aggressive, angular, slick dance-rock machine. Live, they're still figuring that shit out.
Part of the problem was that, in trying to connect with their audience, the Modern kids lost the clear boundaries of their sound. Vocalist/keyboardist Aimee Mazzuca let go of the calculated Karen O detachment that anchors her band's recorded output, settling into a brash, trashy bar-bitch bravado that didn't mesh with the punk-funk format of the tunes. Guitarist/singer Akira Alemany attempted to play off of Mazzuca's looser energy, but his weaker vocals ended up detracting from the sum total.
And without guidance, the remaining band members flailed, ricocheting between dark disco rhythms and roadhouse ruckus without enough focus to properly pull off either.
Modernboys Moderngirls clearly have a formula that works in the studio. With a little more time and experience, they'll be able to translate it onstage.