Musical Musings: Benco brings Constantines and Love Is All to The Summit

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

First a note about location: I've been a fan of The Summit, the new rock club nextdoor to Cafe Bourbon Street, since it opened back in September. But my appreciation for the space ratcheted up a notch or two over the past two weeks, first when it hosted the fourth annual Rock Potluck, then when Benco bookended last weekend with a pair of highly anticipated indie rock bills.

I liked having the Rock Potluck at The Summit because it allowed for the kind of up-close experience you'd get next door at Bobo, but a lot more people fit inside. The same show wouldn't have been as intimate an experience at Skully's, and it never was that intimate at previous locations Little Brother's and Milo Arts.

The Constantines and Love Is All shows benefitted from their location for the same reason. The Summit isn't a perfect place to see a show (sightlines suffer when it's crowded), and unless the ownership starts to promote themselves better (and gets a damn sign!), it might not be around long enough to become the longstanding institution it should be. But as long as we have it, let's appreciate a venue that plays to the strengths of bands that can draw a crowd but still like to get in your face.

Second, a note about promotion: Ben Hamilton has been doing a killer job of bringing marquee underground rock acts to Columbus. Constantines and Love Is All have been big names in indie rock for many years, and neither one had made its way to Columbus before this past week. I'm certainly glad they did — both put on splendid shows.

Third, a note about performance:

Constantines We'll begin with Friday's Constantines show. I got there just as Obits were wrapping up their set. Wish I would have been a few minutes earlier, as the raw, raunchy proto-punk sounded solid. Nonetheless, the first and only real set I witnessed was by the alternately brainy and brawny combo from Guelph, Ontario.

I had seen Constantines twice before. The first time, I went in blind. They opened for The Wrens in Chicago in 2004 and blew the headliners off the stage. It was loud, heavy and focused, a crackling with energy sort of show. There was a definite physical vibe to the show, manifested in my two main memories from it. One, the band worked up a huge swell of feedback, lifted their hands skyward for an interminable length, and finally released the tension with the kind of clatter you hope for at a rock concert. Two, they invited audience members to pass around various shakers and contribute to the percussive bliss.

The 2008 version of this band isn't half as electrifying. When I saw them in Austin last spring, they drifted through an afternoon set with about as much intensity as a James Taylor concert. That happens to the best of 'em at SXSW, where some acts are run ragged with two or three gigs a day for a week. And thankfully they weren't sleepwalking Friday at The Summit, although it was clear that what once had been a ferocious animal had grown into something crafty in its middle age.

The "mature" thing works for Constantines, though, especially on the newer material. Old songs like "Young Offenders" and "Insectivora," despite all their blue-collar fury, sounded like skeletons compared to the more melodically adventurous, fleshed-out latter day stuff. Before, the band wrote decent songs and used volume as a crutch. Starting with tracks like "Young Lions" on their second album, they began building songs rich and full enough to work without a huge sound system or throbbing packed house. This paid dividends in the long run, as the new stuff, which isn't quite as satisfying as the old stuff on record, really carried this show. It wasn't the face-shattering experience the band used to offer, but it provided a fine window into a group that has figured out how to age gracefully.

Love Is All + Times New Viking Once again, I missed a high-profile opener. But I saw Crystal Stilts last time they were here, and reports suggest their set this time around was as pleasantly "OK" as their previous engagement. (Here's the gist.)

The real reason to be there was Love Is All, the freakishly fun Swedish art-punk band. Their bluster of gang vocals, saxophone squawks and party rhythms made for two hot LPs, and it was bound to translate to a badass live show.

That's definitely what happened, although this band doesn't man the stage with the same kind of swagger that usually characterizes party bands, so it didn't play out like you'd think, in a blizzard of cocked pelvises and tossed hair. In fact, Josephine Olausson's hair was trimmed extra short, which really added to the "Thom Yorke's grandma" look she seemed to be cultivating. (So did the cat sweater.)

Though her band's music requires far less patience than Radiohead, Olausson works the stage in much the same way Yorke does, standing awkwardly in the midst of madness, wearing a goofy look on her face and often hunched over a keyboard. It's a surprising look and feel for a band whose music demands such a physical reaction, blending retro garage sass, riot grrl abrasion and disco infectiousness into a delicious Molotov cocktail.

The weirdness didn't keep them from slaying the stage. After taking a couple tunes to get in sync with their surroundings, Love Is All rattled the room with the first two tracks from debut Nine Times That Same Song, including a dream rendition of their masterpiece, "Aging Had Never Been His Friend." They just kept building momentum from there, wrapping things up with a truly spectacular run through "New Beginnings."

I'd best not underplay how much the dude background singers add to the Love Is All sound. Their unison chants provide an ideal counterpoint to Olausson's mousy wail. And when those opposing vocal forces combine, it makes for some of the most intense musical crosshatching I've had the pleasure to witness. And the sax player wore the most infectious grin, which earns extra credit in my book. A+, guys and gal.

The night wrapped with what is probably the last 2008 performance by Times New Viking. It didn't play out like a happy homecoming, as teeming mass of friends and hangers-on that used to flop around in front of the stage at TNV shows has been replaced by a circle of over-eager moshpit dudes. A year ago, this show would have been next door at Bourbon Street, and every note the trio skronked out would be batted back at them by the friendly faithful. Many of those devotees were there last night, but the fervor that used to accompany a hometown Times New Viking show was in recession. From where I stood, it felt like just another gig.

Of course, "just another TNV gig" is underselling the fact that they brought it hard like road-tested rock stars should. Hearing them bust out older songs like "Not High" and "We Got Rocket" brought a nostalgic smile to my face, and they finally conjured up a live take on "(My Head)" that comes close to matching the recorded version's glory. And although all that touring has definitely sharpened their skills, it was good to hear them still a bit out of sync at the beginning of "Teenage Lust." Older, wiser and sharper, but still the same old TNV.