Musical Musings: Party Dream, Peter Bjorn and John & more
Gil Mantera's Party Dream at Don Pablo's parking lot
Watching Gil Mantera's Party Dream in a Don Pablo's parking lot—it sounds like a quirky flight of fancy from a Kyle Sowash song, but it happened Saturday as part of a Promowest-sponsored Cinco de Mayo celebration.
As the headliner of a "five bands for five bucks" deal, the outlandish Youngstown duo performed its usual wonderfully shticky electro-pop peep show with a seasonal twist. Joining Gil and Ultimate Donny on the massive portable stage was a gentleman dressed as Don Pablo himself. Between stretches of the band's usual striptease/dance rock hoopla, the Don would take center stage and mime his way through pre-recorded screeds about his origins. The history included a feud with his cousin Chi Chi, who believed chips and salsa should not be free, even with the purchase of an entree.
Meanwhile, the music was, as ever, immensely entertaining though sometimes overpowered by the band's antics. Amid all the zany behavior, writing off the tunes would be easy, but the Party Dream makes some wonderful pop music, fairly straightforward synth anthems bearing only traces of the weirdness that dominates the stage show.
That splash of personality shouldn't be construed as a negative, though. Although the music stands on its own, the band would be far less notable were they not exhibitionists. Donny's ridiculous rants make for high comedy ("We had offers from Staples and Champp's too, and they were offering us more money, but we decided to go with Don Pablo's in honor of Cinco de Maggio!). Watching Gil sway across the stage in leather and vampire fangs, singing through a vocoder, swept completely into the music he created, is somehow very comforting and very frightening at once. And Donny's sequined body suit with a stuffed crotch was wholly terrifying. But it's all part of the unique experience they've created.
Peter Bjorn and John at Wexner Center Performance Space
Swedish sensations Peter Bjorn and John were the latest to grace the Wexner Performance Space Monday night, delivering a solid but not quite magical set. The trio put on a wholly competent performance with a nice share of wonderful moments, but after the practically perfect Writer's Block, it's kind of hard for such a lackadaisical live show to live up. More on them in a moment.
First Au Revoir Simone played, but I missed them, much to John Ross' chagrin. Next up was Fujiya & Miyagi, a dance act that was easy to write off at first. Initially they seemed like half of Hot Chip with half the energy and songs half as good. But the drum machine-backed trio won me over eventually with their slightly understated vocals and organic, interlocking rhythms. You gotta give credit to a band that can make lines like "The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone" and "Sockitomee!" work.
The Swedes strutted on stage in their usual dapper nerdware (slacks, collared shirts, an argyle vest) and began with "Roll the Credits," the emotional tension release exercise that acts as the unofficial climax of Writer's Block. The song, seemingly built to be a closing number, served well as a scene-setting opener for a major rock show. The performance that followed, though, was anticlimactic. Retro nugget "Let's Call It Off" lacked the spunk that makes it such a joy on record, and from there the show was a bit wobbly. They trotted out an old song that rocked, but I couldn't tell you how it goes. They played somewhat sloppy versions of current favorites. And they reworked the likes of "The Chills" and "Amsterdam" in ways that obscured, not accentuated, their beauty.
Thankfully PB&J saved the best for last, finishing up with their biggest hit and two successful rock numbers. For "Young Folks," they invited Heather of Au Revoir Simone to sing the female parts and invited a crew member to play bongos. As Peter Moren, shaker in hand, led the bunch through the brisk, whistling hit, his band's performance hit a peak. But they weren't quite finished. "Objects of My Affection" was suitably rocking, and they finished with a super-extended version of "Up Against the Wall" that accentuated the song's Yo La Tengo qualities as Moren had his Ira Kaplan guitar freakout. A rendition of "Poor Cow" served as the encore.
The lads were goofy throughout, exploiting their accents and minimal knowledge of English to comedic effect. Moren scurried about like an unwieldy child, hopping slightly off-beat during the more rocking moments. And by the end, Bjorn Yttling seemed wasted, flipping his bass upside down and somehow still managing to hit the notes. Maybe he just didn't care that much. The song still sounded decent. It was that kind of show.
The Kessel Run, Husband and Wife, The Polyatomic at Andyman's Treehouse
I rounded out the weekend by catching some friends' bands at the newly smokeless Treebar. Between the epic space pop of The Kessel Run and the jangly electro-pop of The Polyatomic, Bloomington's Husband and Wife played two abbreviated sets, one featuring the songs of a guy by the name of Orange Yellow Red. The visitors were exceedingly pleasant, playing the pensive, melodic brand of indie rock that treads the same territory as blandcore (Snow Patrol et al) but manages to stay vital. Long instrumental passages built into beautiful climaxes, and while only a few songs from the dual sets stood out, they really stood out. And that was fine; I don't ask for more than a couple moments of unexpected beauty at a Sunday night rock show.