June 06, 2003

Needles and Plastic

This was show number three for me at the Crocodile Cafe Tuesday night, and the first one as a local. So perhaps it's no surprise the place is already feeling comfortable, paper mache snakes hanging from the ceiling and all. The event? A double dose of some serious early 90s pop nostalgia as provided by the Swirlies and Lilys.

Although each band has long since branched off from the slightly more naive, dreamy guitar pop that initially snagged my attention over a decade ago (by way of debut singles on seminal Amerindiepop label Slumberland), neither has strayed so far as to be unrecognizably different. The Lilys still create dense layers of sound with guitars, though now with an unabashedly retro folk-pop flavor; the Swirles still spike their guitar workouts with veins of shimmery guitar, synth and female vocal melodies.

Friends and I arrived just in time to see the last of the set by Explosions From the Sky, who were working an extended instrumental jam that caused a few premature bouts of applause as the band intermittently became oh-so-quiet before ratcheting up the volume once again. Am I a jerk for using these musical lulls as an excuse to talk quietly to someone I spotted and hadn't seen in years (Chris Jigsaw!)? Well, I was standing near one of the back walls...

During the break between bands, someone climbed up onstage and began taping a red banner to the curtain behind the stage. As it unfurled we were able to make out the black lettering printed on it: "SNEAKY FLUTE EMPIRE." Yes, the Swirlies would definitely be up next.

I'd almost forgotten that the band hailed from my hometown (Boston), maybe because they were just getting started as I was graduating from high school and moving to the big city (NYC). And by the time I returned, I was so busy playing catch-up -- raiding my radio station's stacks for the latest from this or that new shiny scene-darling, or some obscure, out-of-print piece of wax I'd only ever read about in the Trouser Press Record Guide

Or maybe I always kind of took them for granted as part of one subset of Boston's mid-nineties indie rock scene (along with Kudgel, Fat Day and other bands featuring fellow radio DJs). Yeah, the Swirlies... I dig them... maybe I'll catch 'em next week at T.T.'s instead...

So there I was, waiting for Damon and his latest line-up to entertain us, not sure of quite what to expect almost ten years later. Once the band left the stage, part of me was glad that I hadn't bothered buying their new CD prior to the show, because I love good suprises, and that's just what their set was all about. Just the right mixture of sonic weirdness and tuneful sweetness, pretty like plastic melting over an open flame. And you could have knocked me over with a feather as Damon hit the opening chords to debut single b-side "Chris R." -- how did you know that was my favorite??

After a quick trip to the merch table to get the aforementioned new CD, we were ready for the Lilys. Lead Lily Kurt Heasley stepped onstage, looking like younger, preppier Stephen Duffy, determinedly wielding an acoustic 12-string guitar. The first few songs of their set were a bit muddy and circular, but I sat tight waiting for the pop hooks to kick in. Which they did, but a little more than halfway through the set. The last three songs were head-boppingly convincing, and I only wish the band had picked up the pace a little sooner. More of that, please.

We filed out of the club a little before 1am on a weeknight, into the eerily quiet streets of Belltown. The New Yorker in me still misses the yellow cabs, 24-hour delis, and cheap late-night pizza, but the emerging Seattlite realized it was time to call it a night all the same, as we headed back up the hill and away from downtown.

Posted by nstop at June 06, 2003 09:28 AM


Ah ha! Good to see nonstop back and working. What is it that you've moved to Seattle? Maybe you said, but I missed it??

Posted by: tom on June 8, 2003 04:53 AM

Kudgel are sadly long gone, but Fat Day are stronger than ever. They just put out a new album this past winter.

Posted by: liz on June 10, 2003 08:41 AM

I really dig that Lilys album dedicated to krautrock -- every song sounded like Can or Neu!

Posted by: Sabo on June 11, 2003 08:44 PM

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