By: Ryan Torok
Sunset Rubdown :: 10.27.09 :: The Troubadour :: Los Angeles, CA
Back in 2005, Spencer Krug, arguably the hardest-working man in indie rock - he is the vocalist, pianist and guitarist of four different bands: Sunset Rubdown, Wolf Parade, Frog Eyes, and Swan Lake - gave the world a great song. It was called "I'll Believe in Anything." It first appeared on Sunset Rubdown's debut LP, Snake's Got a Leg. A few months later, it re-surfaced in a different version on Wolf Parade's first full-length album, Apologizes to the Queen Mary. The song, in a word, soared. Raw, powerful drumming backed by Krug's intense, melodic yelp yielded results that were passionate, dramatic, and touching in ways impossible for a songwriter to plan. It was the kind of song that made you either want to weep or stand up in the passenger seat of a moving car with half your body out the open sun-roof, while you closed your eyes, threw your hands to the sky, tilted your head back, and smiled because you were finally confident in your place in the world. Somehow, one line, the song's recurring lyric - "Nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn!" - encapsulated every wild emotion every teenager has ever felt – all the pain, love, confusion, remorse, regret, and hope. More than anything else, "I'll Believe in Anything" demonstrated Krug's ability to make chaos beautiful.
Unfortunately, nothing Krug has done since comes close. Anything he is involved in is doomed to be a letdown, including live shows.
All summer long, Krug and Sunset Rubdown – comprised of Camilla Wynne Ingr (back-up vocals, percussion, keys), Michael Doerksen (guitar, bass, synthesizers, drums), Jordan Robson-Cramer (drums, guitar, keys), and newest member Mark Nicol (bass, drums) - toured in support of their latest album, Dragonslayer (released June 23 on Jagjaguar), a sprawling, ambitious saga whose eight songs enjoy an average length of over five minutes. On October 27, Rubdown played their final North American date to an almost sold out club of mostly early twenty-somethings at The Troubadour, a small club in West Hollywood. Expectedly, the 75-minute set, including one encore, continued Krug's post-"I'll Believe in Anything" streak of fine but not great music. The band comfortably executed "You Go on Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)" and "Idiot Heart," two of the stronger songs from Dragonslayer. They unveiled a brand new song, which Krug clarified was about getting drunk and forcing your friends to take care of you (he then dedicated the song to his tour manager), and older material like "The Mending of the Gown," which was driven by the weaving together of a proggy guitar riff with Krug's brief, redundant, '80s pop piano notes, and "The Empty Threats of Little Lord," during which Krug repeatedly cried, "No, I am not that kind of whore!" These selections represented how consistently the band, throughout its half-decade career, has managed to create complex but accessible arrangements. Nothing, however, stood out. It was a show devoid of highs and even lows. The show was just fine.
"Idiot Heart" was perhaps the closest thing to a highlight. The song demonstrated one of the ways Sunset Rubdown is unique; they are one of the few bands that allow the lyrics to dictate the sound of the music, rather than vice versa. After Krug sang, "I was never much of a dancer, but I know enough to know you gotta move," Robson-Cramer sped up on the hi-hat, creating a synergy between lyric and music hard to find in any genre. The crowd erupted, letting loose into a semi-dance party.
| Sunset Rubdown|
"Silver Moons," also from Dragonslayer, should have been great. On record, when Krug and Ingr harmonize during the bridge, the sweet and child-like sound of Ingr's pipes gorgeously complement Krug's rough, fractured whimpers, essentially creating a third voice. Live, however, they didn't pull it off; it sounded like two people competing to be heard. Krug had a head cold, so that might have been the reason. At one point, he even apologized to the crowd that his voice sounded "fucked up." Other than that, he was his usual shy self and kept stage banter to a minimum, even ignoring the fan who kept yelling out, "It's always sunny with Sunset!"
The only surprise of the night was the opening band, Tune-Yards. Led by talented female vocalist Merrill Garbus, this three-piece, which included a touring bassist and guitarist, commanded the stage for a fast half-hour set. Garbus beat the hell out of a snare and a tom drum, strummed and fingerpicked a ukulele, scatted and yodeled, recording sounds on the spot and then looping them to create beats. She sang over these literally fresh beats as well as over funky bass lines in a vocal style that conjured influences as wide-ranging and perplexing as Aretha Franklin AND Alanis Morissette. The initial reaction of some was, "WTF?" but the music was angry, sexual, a lot of fun, and won the crowd over by the end. Sunset Rubdown should have been taking notes.
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