Tuesday, November 13, 2012

REVIEW: Electric Six / Little Hurricane / Girls 2021

Tuesday, November 6 at the Firebird
“My people need a place to go,” says hyper-throated frontman Dick Valentine in one of Electric Six’s finer songs, “Down At McDonnellzz.” That place was the fabulous Firebird, the venue of choice for this band of misfit rock stars, which has become their de facto home when they come through the STL. This time through they brought Girls 2021 and Little Hurricane, two stellar groups whose dynamite opening sets were unfortunately timed, due to the proximity of both a national presidential election and the utterly palpable anticipation surrounding Electric 6’s set. That’s not to say that Girls 2021’s hyped-up indie rock and Little Hurricane’s boy/girl blues blasts didn't garner applause and audience response, but it was obvious to everyone that both the election and the headliner were making it hard for folks to concentrate.
When Dick Valentine took the stage, speaking in a perfectly reasonable voice, it took a moment to recognize him. Where was the bombastic character that he portrays on all of Electric Six’s impressive output—already at six albums, with a live record and another new album on the way? It wasn't until opener “Crazy Horses” blared out of the gate that Valentine's true voice was revealed.
Once the horses were out of the proverbial barn, Valentine growled, cackled, shouted and sang some of the most self-aware meta-rock tunes out there. From songs of bawdy behavior (“I Buy The Drugs”), rock n roll excess and general mayhem (“Danger! High Voltage”) and so on, Electric Six could be mistaken for indie rock’s Spinal Tap, if it weren’t for the fact that they seem tomean it. You get the feeling that the band might actually, for example, set fire to a Taco Bell or give out a P.O. box where you can request drugs from their lead singer. But around those self-aware, winking, ironic-or-not? lyrics are ironsided rock songs, so when the band drops into the shuffling keyboards of “Newark Airport Boogie,” you’re dancing and laughing simultaneously as Dick Valentine shouts, “Here’s the part where everybody breaks into song!” In the middle of a song. 
But the band doesn’t just do meta-commentary; it has its fair share of shock-value moments too. “She’s White” would make The Darkness blush, despite not being actually vulgar.  Even if it’s not autobiographical, “I Buy The Drugs” probably makes the cops check Dick extra careful when they pull the band over. That’s to say nothing of their biggest hit, “Gay Bar,” which culminates with the lyric, “I’ve got something to put in you / at the gay bar.” Ew.
It says something about Electric Six's sense of humor that they not only say what they say, but that the audience gets pulled into the band's rock n roll reality. This conversion happens courtesy of sheer hard work on the part of drummer Percussion World, keyboard slayer Tait Nucleus? (sic),  guitarists Johnny Nischal and The Colonel, and bassist Smorgasbord (who also gets the coffee, apparently). The band behind Valentine’s bluster backs it up with classic rock guitars and keyboards tuned to make you dance. Basic four-on-the-floor rock in a setting like the Firebird would sound kind of out of place—the ‘Bird is mostly known as a place for freak-folk, indie hip-hop, metal and all flavors of out-there music—but the regal rock legacy that precedes Electric Six is almost a show unto itself.
 The crowd was full of first-timers and lifers both, with each taking in the spectacle and getting their dancing orders from Dick, The “Dance Commander.” The set was peppered with semi-hits (“Gay Bar”, “High Voltage”) and obscure cuts including new songs (one of which I believe was called “I Am A Song!”) from their new album. This was the band’s 4th time to the Firebird in 2 years and the end of their current tour in support of their last record “Zodiac” before working on the new album. Such a tireless treadmill of productivity would destroy lesser bands but this is Electric 6 we’re talking about. They’ve built themselves a castle in the ever-shifting sands of fickle indie rock and the thing they do is just keep building new foundations, stacking their ouvre higher and higher until such a towering series of albums and shows and songs is their legacy in and of itself. It can take a toll. What many in the crowd may not have been aware of, was that guitarist The Colonel was heading on to other projects leaving the leads in the hands of the estimable Da Ve. But with such a fiery frontman and a deep deck of players, his absence was barely noticed. The show, after all, must go on.
by Jason Robinson

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