Noise Pop '97: Fluf, PeeChees, Decal, Frogpond
Bottom of the Hill
Saturday, March 1

Dismiss, if you like, the whole idea of going to a rock show indoors at noon on a Saturday. I'm all for it, lack of outdoor festival "glamour" notwithstanding. Almost every band onstage during the daytime Noise Pop slot at the Bottom of the Hill on March 1 (Frogpond, Decal, PeeChees, and Fluf) made a fuss about their matinee position. The crowd was noticeably thin -- though at the B. of the H., where mammalian density regularly surpasses that on a cattle train to Calcutta, this just meant that being among them was tolerable. Perhaps performing or attending during sunlight hours seems prissy to club-rock folk, an indictment of some sort. But of what? Early bedtime? Actually needing the sunglasses that never leave your face? Not being a vampire? How gauche.

"We're not used to seeing the sun," said Frogpond singer Heidi Phillips, not meaning to sound so gothic. "We're going to pretend it's 12 hours later. Please bear with us."

"We've played in the afternoon maybe twice before," mumbled the PeeChees' front freak, Chris Appelgren. "You're all in bands ... you understand."

"We're gonna go get a pizza," announced O, rotund lead singer and guitarist of Fluf, in lieu of an encore. "We don't know what you guys are gonna do."

At least they were funny about it. Perhaps they were all just unaccustomed to having an evening to kill after playing, overall, some pretty good sets.

Frogpond were much better live than on their debut, Count to Ten -- which wasn't even all that bad. Granted, I'd heard most of Frogpond's chords before, by any number of better-named outfits -- but this sort of shortcoming is much more noticeable when you're trapped alone in a room with a record than when you're watching people hop up and down in their ripped jeans. Yes, there was a I-IV-V song -- that longest-in-the-tooth of the various rock riff standbys -- but at least Frogpond was brash about it. Most songs were consonant and crunchy -- yep, the very "noise pop" sound that we could imagine unified the festival -- but some, like "Talk to Me" (which opens the album) and "Count to Ten" (which opened the set) had creepy flat-first and diminished-fifth characteristics. Namely, the "evil" stuff -- pioneered (in rock) among the welcome ranks of the artless -- which I enjoy, to a point. Rarely does a live set make me go back and peruse an album I've rejected, but this was the case with Count to Ten and the Portland, Ore., quartet.

Frogpond performed their various E-tonics and brittle, occasionally Arabic-sounding vocal harmonies with spunk -- though not the embarrassing sort proffered by Decal. Jesus, guys, cheer down. Suits 'n' ties, connect-the-dots I-IV-V's, spastic guitar-neck semaphore, leaping-in-unison-on-the-first-downbeat -- hardly crimes unique to Decal. A lot of bands that exist without compelling reason ape their forebears. But this foursome reminded me of nothing more than early Romantics, though shorn of their power-pop Afros, and perhaps clenching caffeine suppositories in their nethers. Decal's sound, which consisted of perfectly plumb and square blocks of strums and licks, utterly without airy margin, was like a great inedible brick of lard broken only by downbeats. A remarkably unexceptional ditty band. (I have now officially run out of ways to describe mediocrity.)

On a dissimilar note, though perhaps in the same key, the PeeChees somehow managed to endear themselves despite their gamut of fuck-ups. Why this should have worked in their favor, I don't know. The watchful crowd thinned down to about a dozen during the set, smattering out polite applause between numbers. But any band with a fat man on a Rickenbacker (Rop Vazquez) stands a good chance of being OK by me, despite the fact that this same bass went out, and stayed out for quite a while. Not that lack of a bottom end really made much of a difference in the way the PeeChees sounded overall -- Ricks are notoriously buzzy basses -- but it seemed to bother them enough to halt for damage control. A crowd of helpful folks (including O of Fluf) huddled about the troublesome amp, while drummer Molly Neuman and guitarist Carlos Canedo thumped out some filler. The narrow-chested Appelgren, resplendent in purple slacks and a green shirt (or did I have food poisoning?) mumbled at the top of his lungs and made vaguely unpleasant motions with his hips. Not a great voice by any means, but really eager to miss those notes. Normally, this sort of empty fashion-templating drives me to distraction, but here I was amused. "Wow," I thought. "Their relative incompetence is really working for them." During a windmill, Canedo bashed his hand against Appelgren's mike stand, but no one seemed to mind. But Neuman -- who can smack her drums hard and fast, even if she is a one-beater -- seemed eager to leave. Her sticks were packed away within a second of her final beat, before Appelgren was even done thanking people for paying some modicum of attention. For the life of me, I cannot remember what the PeeChees sounded like.

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