Nous Non Plus, the Black Hollies, and O'Death at the Mercury Lounge 2/24/07
This was the best $10 I’ve spent on a show in awhile. There was a long line outside and the place was packed and smelled like farts once I got in, but what then would artfarts be without the occasional petard?
Nous Non Plus play the kind of bouncy indie-pop that makes one want to put on gogo boots and dance, like, forever. They pour Sixties pop harmonies and NYC grit with unequal measure (the pop wins) into songs featuring adorably unintelligible French lyrics, delivered with what appear to be genuine smiles of enjoyment. The enjoyment was catching, and I felt like I’d seen a unicorn or something after watching the cool LES crowd dance around awkwardly to song after song. And speaking of Unicorns, they covered them! In French! With a violin, no less! Magnéfique.
I was excited to see the Black Hollies because they’d been considerably hyped up by the L Magazine and various other things I read, but they turned out to be a pretty generic 70’s-retro-tastic act. I kept thinking they were covering a well-known song, but after failing to put my finger on it song after song, I decided they were just ripping everyone off. I’m not saying it was totally awful…I bopped along to them but soon grew bored and had to go get a drink. Even their visually stimulating velvet blazers and shaggy haircuts were not enough to keep me entertained. But I think they could definitely score a place on the soundtrack to Austin Powers 4, in which the entire period from 1974-1979 boards a time machine and ends up in 2007, but there’s a glitch or something and everything gets a little crappier in transit.
And now for the act that really stole the show: O’Death! Unlike the Black Hollies, O’Death delivered on their New York media hype. Much like the naysayers described in their L interview, I was initially skeptical of a band comprised of college educated Yankees playing Appalachian country music…specifically, skeptical of their potential to rock me. But au contraire! They quickly blew my mind with their combination of man-shrieks about death and lean-tos, call-and-response audience-excitement tactics, un-nervingly fast banjo, and a crazy drummer who used chains and an oil can to make noise. I wasn’t sure if I should hoot and holler with joy for the dark spirit that was trying to git in me, or run for the hills. A crowd of city folk (who were originally from Vermont, as it turns out) was thrashing excitedly about in front, and in spite of having to dodge beer and a few flying possums, I dare say I was caught up in the hootenanny (for once, my Caucasian-shuffle did not feel out of place). My friend Jess, avowed O’Death fan (sporting a wife-beater and plaid shirt), surprised me with her ability to identify with the lead singer’s song about “going into the woods and building a lean-to cause you’re sad.” “That works if it only rains in one direction,” she added somberly, and the two shared a knowing glance. I myself have little lean-to experience, but I could still appreciate the song’s sentiments: a primal shout of "fuck!" to the pure, indifferent Appalachian sky. I think it’s funny that people apply labels like “goth-country” to this band, because the musical prefix “goth” makes me think of Bauhaus (or, let’s be honest, oily fat kids stopping in at Hot Topic to buy Marilyn Manson shirts in between trips to Auntie Em’s and Cinnabon), and I’m pretty sure Gothic in the Southern sense of the word pre-dates any of that hoo-hah. Faulkner could kick Manson’s pasty bare ass any day of the week, then skin him and cook him for dinner. And that is why, as Jess ecstatically promised me when trying to convince me to go out, O’Death is “awesomesauce…like a kentucky hillbilly back porch ho-down meets math rock chain metal…but with more beards.” Totally more beards. I will never doubt my friend again.