Review: Box Elders, Woven Bones, and Tanks Amigo at Monster Island

This Thursday night’s show at Monster Island had a heavy emphasis on two of my favorite things: strong bass lines and perfectly chosen covers. A very well-curated show on Todd P.’s part, the evening started off with Tanks Amigo, a Brooklyn band cobbled together with members of My Teenage Stride, caUSE-coMOTION, Crystal Stilts, and more. This was only their first performance, I believe, or at least at the end of their set they said they only had practiced three times. It definitely showed; they weren’t terrifically together, but it was a fun set and it drew all of the local regulars out. It was a veritable who’s who of people who you always see at Todd P. shows. They played through a short, relaxed set of garage rock that fits pretty well into all the lo-fi business happening these days. What made them stand out a bit, however, was the emphasis they allowed the strong bass to play, as well as the excellent guitar stylings of the Crystal Stilts guitarist. He’s an excellent, inventive guitar player in that band, and it came across in this one, as well.

After the locals got the crowd out early, it was time to switch over to the Southern rock. Not to say that Woven Bones and Box Elders play Southern rock, but the former hails from Austin and the latter from Omaha. Okay, so Nebraska isn’t the South, it’s the Midwest. I think the thing I’m driving at here is that there’s been an upsurge in bands recently not from New York or Los Angeles, but rather from small towns or not-so-big cities that are playing not lo-fi, but really dirty, grungy, dude rock. You know, dude rock? The kind of music where you drink beer and maybe haven’t showered for awhile, and just kind of thrash around in front of the stage? I’d add Woven Bones and Box Elders to the likes of JEFF the Brotherhood, Kurt Vile, and Ty Segall, all dude-bands playing this kind of music. It’s lo-fi, but it’s not part of the trend that everyone is complaining about now. And while I think that this kind of music also has its pitfalls (like lo-fi, perhaps not original enough, merely a rehash of 60s garage culture), I think it has the potential to pull us out of the musical rut that indie rock is beginning to slip into at the end of 2009, after the recent burst of creativity.

Woven Bones’ singer’s whiny snarl might not be anything new, but it sure was good. Once again, this band was lifted up by excellent bass-playing. The songs were built around bass-lines, and their thrashing, pulsing tempos almost had a hypnotic effect. It was exciting, new rock  being played by young people in an exciting, new venue run mostly by young people. A good feeling, especially when they pulled out a cover of The Ramones’ “I Wann Be Your Boyfriend.” It was honestly one of the best Ramones covers I’ve ever heard, with the singer not attempting to be Joey but just singing as himself, and it is a testament to a young band with lots of potential.

Box Elders picked up their instruments a little before midnight, with a curious set-up and an even curiouser aesthetic. If all of the bands that played last night were on the same garage rock theme, then Box Elders had the most elements in their set that deviated from the norm. What really set them apart was the addition of organ-like keyboard, played by their unstoppably energetic drummer, Dave Goldberg. While their bass player was only nineteen years old (brother to the guitar player), the Goldberg was a full-grown man, totally opposite of his band mate, with the other brother rounding out the ages in between (at least that’s what it looked like). It was certainly a funny visual presentation. Even though I said he was a full-grown man, he was actually rather small in stature, but he certainly compensated for it in multi-handed talent. The only other person I’ve seen play drums and keyboards at the same time is Andy Stack of Wye Oak. It’s always a fun feat to watch, but Goldberg was like a Chris Kattan sketch character, constantly moving and relentlessly excited (that’s where the comparison ends, however, because the band was very successful, whereas Kattan’s sketches normally were not). Much like the addition of the keys to the drums, bass, guitar trio, Goldberg upped the ante on this band’s perceived sense of humor.

If Goldberg kept it light, then the brothers up front brought back the 70s rock and roll dude vibe, and to magnificent effect. Playing a double-necked guitar, the elder McIntyre brother looked almost as much of a caricature as Goldberg. And the younger McIntyre swung his head to utilize his long hair for maximum rocking-ness. Their vocals really stood out, both taking on equal rolls and crisply and clearly belted out melodies for their down home and dirty rock and roll. Somehow, each member of the band commits absolutely to their role in the trio without coming off as contrived or trying too hard. Instead, it makes them seem like a killer band with a great sense of humor about themselves. That’s pretty much the best kind of garage rock band to watch.

Appropriately, Box Elders ended with another excellent cover – the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks.” The younger and shirtless McIntyre sang it perfectly, his snotty voice clear, youthful, and impressively strong over the cacophonous sounds of the trio. My only complaint for the night was that the lackluster Brooklyn audience hardly danced at all. Box Elders are definitely the kind of band that make you want to move around, moshing with abandon. If only people had taken the “Teenage Kicks” ethos to heart. I think that Box Elders definitely do, and it shows in their endlessly fun and entertaining live show.

See them live:

9/19 – 529 – Atlanta, GA
9/20 – Will’s Pub – Orlando, FL
9/22 – Alabama Music Box – Mobile, AL
9/23 – Hal & Mal’s – Jackson, MS
9/24 – Spellcaster Lodge – New Orleans, LA
9/26 – Goner Fest – Memphis, TN
9/28 – Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL
9/29 – Reverb – Toronto, Ontario
9/30 – La Sala Rosa – Montreal, Quebec
10/1 – Le Poisson Rouge – New York, NY
10/2 – Harper’s Ferry – Boston, MA
10/3 – Otto Bar – Baltimore, MD
10/4 – Now That’s Class – Cleveland, OH

Tanks Amigo

Woven Bones

Box Elders

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– Madalyn Baldanzi


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