All photos by Eric Rife
It was a night of broken strings, late arrivals and hopelessly tangled guitar cords that threatened to sabotage an evening with Les Savy Fav, Von Bondies and Pretty Girls Make Graves at the Casbah on October third. But for the 200+ people who showed up almost from the moment the doors opened, these were minor inconveniences.
Pretty Girls Make Graves took the stage at 9:45, surprising a lot of folks who thought that arriving any time before 10:00 would almost certainly guarantee a choice spot in front of the stage. No such luck. When I walked in a few minutes past the hour the band had already ripped through some of their choicest material. Three songs later, they
left with a screaming horde of fans tightly huddled around every corner of the stage.
The Von Bondies, one of the hottest Motor City garage blues punk groups to come down the pike (with production and promotional assistance from Jack White), were delayed when guitarist Marcie Bolen arrived a half hour after the rest of the band had set up. Bassist Carrie Smith pleaded, "Does anybody know any jokes?" while front guy Jason Stollsteimer begged drummer Don Blum to "tell that story!" Blum demurred.
Jumping on stage with a guitar bag and a Gordian knot of guitar cable, Bolen and Stollsteimer played a sort of tug of war trying to unwind the unholy mess. Stollsteimer did his best to apologize for his bandmate who didn't appear to be terribly bothered by the delay she'd caused. Indeed, the whole situation would have almost been excusable had Bolen shown the slightest amount of regret. But hey, when you're a fabulous babe who can play the best fuzzed out guitar since Poison Ivy, who has time for apologies, right?
After finally getting their shit together, the Bondies were left with a paltry twenty minutes to play. That gave them just enough time to roll out "Lack of Communication," "Going Down," "Shallow Grave," and "Please Please Man" before finishing up with "Nite Train." The abbreviated set undoubtedly impressed the uninitiated, but disappointed those for whom the band was the evening's main attraction.
Watching Les Savy Fav, it's easy to imagine a scene straight out of CBGB, circa 1976. Formed five years ago at the same Rhode Island art school as the Talking Heads, Les Savy Fav migrated to Brooklyn where they've recorded for a variety of different labels, including one single on Sub Pop. Three distinctly offbeat albums later, critics still have a difficult time describing them, although lead singer Tim Harrington's crypto-psychotic ranting is reminiscent of Pere Ubu's Dave Thomas minus some of the arty pretensions.
The band drew heavily from their third album, Go Forth, pulling out such manic tracks as "The Slip," "Tragic Monsters," "Bloom on Demand" and "Disco Drive" - songs that alternate between the dissonant and the catchy without ever sounding esoteric.
By the time the band finished with the raging "Rome (Written Upside Down)" those of us who had turned out for the Von Bondies had our heads properly adjusted. Les Savy Fav, despite all the avant garde appearances, know how to take lofty aspirations and nail them down with some of the most instantly likable hooks and leads. Mixing rage, art and intellect has led a lot of bands down unnecessarily experimental paths which are great for the initiated but tend to alienate the merely curious. Les Savy Fav strike that delicate balance between artistic ambition and guttural knowledge. And that's no easy feat.