Yes, one more show in Austin...
Venue: The Sidewinder (outside)
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 14 June 2017
Opening Acts: Street Themes, B Boys
01. Lonesome Sound
01. Lonesome Sound
02. Unknown →
04. Right Back to the Start
05. Green Lady
06. In Nightmare Room
07. Little Killer
08. True Monument
09. Flower of Sex
10. Anxiety's Door
11. Unknown Dead Side cover →
12. My Dream Is Yours
Street Themes started off the night with a brief set of sludgy hard rock and metal. I detected a trace of The Jesus & Mary Chain in the drummer's cocksure vocal style and the cacophonous, steady throttle of the instrumentation. The heavy feedback and effects made for some interesting noise, but the aggression didn't work for me, and the vocals were mixed too low to understand a word.
I was initially disappointed by the goofy, simple punk vibe of B Boys, but I gradually realized that they were actually playing a very tight, measured, mechanical, constrained brand of punk that has largely fallen out of vogue since the late 70s. They played direct, minimalist, uptempo songs about mundane matters in unusual perspectives. They reminded me thoroughly of Wire or even early Talking Heads. The two vocalists weren't particularly melodious, but I actually like their disassociated technique.
I saw Merchandise twice just three months ago at SXSW. Despite their complaints of lacking their full setup, they still played strong sets that incorporated live arrangements of new material and an overview of the best of their back catalog. This time, I was hoping for a more thorough set with some deeper cuts and more time for the new songs.
While they did end up playing four songs from A Corpse Wired for Sound, they only played three recognizable songs that I didn't see at the recent SXSW shows: "Right Back to the Start", "Green Lady", and "Flower of Sex". However, they also threw in two shorter pieces that appeared to be covers. I couldn't identify the first, but the second was announced as a Dead Side cover. Otherwise, I was left wanting more. "Schoolyard" was a great throwback to their earlier days, but nothing else was much of a surprise. Furthermore, they didn't even play for an hour. They stopped a little after 10pm without an encore despite that the venue had claimed the show would go until 10:30.
Instrumentally, Merchandise was in top form. Dave Vassalotti always brings his best game, and new drummer Leo Suarez balanced the clean and processed drum sounds well. He also seemed to be driving the samples, which helped fill out the songs a bit more than I would have guessed. They were mixed well and never overwhelmed the live instruments, which was just the right thing for their sound. Bassist Patrick Brady contributed backing vocals to several songs, which also helped expand their sound.
The weak link was unfortunately frontman Carson Cox. It was his 31st birthday and he appeared to have indulged in a few substances. This wasn't the first time I've seen his recklessness negatively impact a show (namely the 2015 SXSW set I saw), and while he didn't perform terribly, his vocals were a bit sloppy and slurred. I appreciated his good mood and humor (he introduced the band as being from El Paso), but he seemed to be taking the show for granted.
When Merchandise get the balance right, they shine and soar. They rarely fall completely flat, but sometimes they do misstep. I've enjoyed watching them grow rapidly in the last few years from the first time I saw them at Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2013, and I appreciate that they can still play some of the older songs with full force. They still performed a convincing set this time around, but I've come to expect just a little more from them.
Street Themes: C-
B Boys: B+