The Gay Blades live at 1982


(photo by Joel Didriksen)

The starting line hath proved hard to find for this review of The Gay Blades, who played at 1982 in Gainesville, Florida on Tuesday night. Beside the overall sentiment of “Yes, that was a bloody great show,” a proper entry point/segue has yet to reveal itself. So, we shall first dispense with the facts.

The duo, hailing from equal parts New York and New Jersey, is comprised of Clark Westfield (AKA James Wells-guitar/vocals ) and Puppy Mills (AKA Quinn English-drums/vocals). Alongside PersonL and Ace Enders, The Gay Blades are currently in the midst of a hefty, cross-coast jaunt about the United States, the “BBQ Across America Tour,” it’s called. This good-eating musical roadtrip booted off on June 30th at the Marquis in Denver, Colorado, and has already plugged into power strips at The Knitting Factory in Los Angeles, El Corazon in Seattle and The Max in Dallas.

1982 in Gainesville, Florida was not on the original BBQ menu. July 21st was supposed to be a day off in the Sunshine State, between dates in Jacksonville and Hotlanta. The Gay Blades and PersonL, however, decided to diss rest and oversized sunglasses at the beach in favor of zest and overpowered amplifiers at 1982.

So local acts Paint Me Irrational and Bearstronaut (another bear-related band name, for real?) were unexpectedly joined by two nationally-touring bands at 1982 on Tuesday night, making for a fat, four-band-billing. And, in this case, the three bands not called The Gay Blades were suddenly faced with a fearsome feat – How are we supposed to go on after those guys?

Like The White Stripes, The Gay Blades are but a drummer and a singing guitarist, though this bare-bones duo is all the same sex, and with matching beards to boot. Guitarist/singer Westfield is quite possibly one of the best frontmen around at the moment, I say with nary a pause or stutter. I learned after the show that his father is a revivalist preacher, and it goes without saying that a lot of that stage swagger and dramatic, demagogue-ish command was in full effect at 1982.

Between songs he was dropping stories, soliloquies and one-liners, mixed with deft antics and overly dramatic body language, so there was no down-time.  Westfield held the crowd utterly rapt, with a stentorian voice and punch-line timing. You couldn’t recover and process, because the show kept on happening. Whether it was another song, or another banter between songs, it didn’t matter; both were so good, you didn’t want to blink. The songs themselves, raw and loud, delivered with shivered gusto, were just as rad. “Hey She Say” and “O Shot” had the black-walled box of 1982 bouncing merrily about – it was an all-ages show and the kids was riled up.

At one point Westfield did a long, rousing speech about how The Gay Blades had come to Gainesville, whilst drummer Puppy Mills pounded out a steady, rattling roll. The man must be given credit for doing a little local research and noting the surrounding interstate geography. He weaved a constantly-rising-action tale of driving along the boring highway, before reaching a high point (he may have said mesa), and seeing Gainesvile, massive on the horizon. “It filled the windshield,” Westfield  marveled aloud, and he brandished his guitar from the neck with one hand for effect, as if dangling some hapless fool over a cliff.

Bruce Springsteen does a similar thing at his shows, just getting all fire and baked bricks o’ brimstone up about the gospel of music and the church of rock and roll and all that hallelujah. That’s what The Gay Blades were bringing to 1982, although the denomination might be more of what the band themselves refer to as “trash pop.” People in the crowd were hanging on to Westfield’s every word, and if he had suddenly decided to holster his guitar, grab someone up front and bellow, “Be gone, evil spirit!” and then throw the dude aside in triumph, it would have been fine.

The best part of the show, however, was the way in which Westfield introduced his band, repeatedly throughout the set (but never annoyingly so). He would intone, with a deep, Charlton Heston-esque grandiosity, “We are The Gay Blades!” This sounded as Westfield was, in fact, standing on a clifftop with his fist raised, like a general overlooking his vast army, bellowing, “To Arms! To Arms!”

The tell-tale moment came, like it always does, when the band finished. Muddled up in the queue, trying to get outside, one could hear snippets of post-show palaver. “Wow, that was insane,” or “That’s the best show I’ve seen in a long time.” One guy remarked, “that’s it, right?” For real, after a show like that, one needs to take a moment and reboot the senses from dumbfoundedness.

It’s always energizing to see a show that really wallops, but it’s also nice to know that everybody else was feeling the same way. Such feeling of community betwixt  folk, all kindred spirits for a short moment, marks many a great show. The Gay Blades wrought one of those, sho’ nuff, and Gainesville was better for it. The fact that the duo, alongside PersonL, unleashed such a beast on their day off, was even better. One wonders what The Gay Blades are like during the work week…

Live!

Jul 24 2009 at Sonar Club Stage in Baltimore, MD
Jul 25 2009 at Crocodile Rock Cafe in Allentown, PA
Jul 26 2009 at Mohawk Place in Buffalo, NY
Jul 28 2009 at Webster Underground in Hartford, CT
Jul 29 2009 at Harpers Ferry in Allston, MA
Jul 30 2009 at School of Rock in South Hackensack, NJ
Jul 31 2009 at TLA in Philadelphia, PA
Aug 1 2009 at Harmony Grange in Wilmington, DE
Aug 9 2009 at WZNE Pary In the Park in Rochester, NY
Aug 19 2009 at Paradiso in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Aug 20 2009 at Rotown in Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Aug 21 2009 at Pukkelpop Festival in Hasselt, Belgium
Aug 22 2009 at V Festival in Stafford, UK
Aug 22 2009 at V Festival in Stafford, UK
Aug 23 2009 at V Festival in Chelmsford, UK
Aug 27 2009 at Circolo – Kiss This Club Night in Milan, Italy
Aug 28 2009 at Razzmatazz – Pop Bar in Barcelona, Spain

– Matt Lehtola

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