Partway through the Velvet Teen’s set last night at the Phoenix, Judah Nagler started noodling on the keyboard, playing snippets of music from game shows and Nintendo games. The crowd, of course, loved it, just as everyone at the Phoenix, whether they knew it or not, loved what it represented: that the Velvet Teen is loosening up. Weathering a difficult third album, a major lineup change, and a sporadic schedule, the band’s finally got their shit dialed back in, and last night’s show was the best Velvet Teen show I’ve seen in two years.
The set started with one of a few new songs—a good sign—but it wasn’t too long before they dipped into an oft-neglected back catalog, namely a brilliantly reworked “Red Like Roses” from Out Of The Fierce Parade. The opening keyboard chords, instantly recognizable, gave way to atmospheric guitar sounds from Matthew Izen that washed through the song like windblown silk. “Penecillin” sounded amazing, marking the welcome return of preset laptop tracks, and “Forlorn,” having found its home at the piano again, resonated across the crowd.
Sometimes I think the Velvet Teen should just re-record Cum Laude. “333″ and “Building a Whale” have evolved into the violent Casey Deitz-driven juggernauts they were always meant to be, and the delicate mannerisms in the band’s expansive, slower version of “Noi Boi” bring out the song’s inner beauty. All told, it’s like they’ve settled in, kicked off their shoes, watched some Jeopardy! and played some Super Mario Bros., and learned how to breathe as a band again.
The topper on the band’s excellent set was the surprise encore—”Chimera Obscurant,” all 13 crashing, crazy minutes of it. For, like, the first time in forever. It’s a favorite of mine for reasons too long to get into here, and the Velvet Teen drove it straight through the heart of a raptured crowd, ditching the “free speech shouldn’t cost” stop and letting it just roll on and on and on and on and on and on and on. Pure bliss.
Opening bands: I missed Goodriddler, which sucks because Nick’s amazing, and I watched all of Aloha and remained underwhelmed. They’re like the band that has a lot of great things going for them—distorted vibes, interesting guitar phrases, an incredible drummer—but somehow they just don’t add up. My friend Josh is all over ‘em (“Sugar is sweet!” he remarked of the band’s 2002 full-length, completely unaware of what he’d just said), which is a sign that in five years, I’ll come around and slap myself on the head.
At the end of the night, people were still talking about Body or Brain, who played the lobby. Best new band right now, no contest. Upbeat, hyperjangly infectious pop, led by Jakie Lieber, a madman. Jakie plays unbelievable riffs on the electric guitar with his bare hands, no pick, and he simultaneously moves around like a clock spring that’s frantically uncoiling. I hunched down near the floor and watched as he jumped, kicked, slung the guitar around his back, tap-danced, did the fucking splits, and moonwalked, all while playing the guitar and not missing a note. I met him a few weekends ago while writing an article about his hardcore band, the Grand Color Crayon, and he’s also got solo recordings that sound like Doug Martsch’s acoustic stuff. Is there anything the kid can’t do? I mean, besides finally move out of Napa someday?
(Jakie jumps around way too fast to be photographed, and this is the best I could do. —–>)