Birthday party pop
“C’mon everybody! Put your hands together!”
Accompanied by a hands-off-the-guitar, over-the-head, jumping-jack handclap, that admonition is a staple, a cliché if you will, of live performance. By the time Warren Bishop got around to it Saturday night, his band the Only Men was midway through its opening set at the Fox & Goose.
The occasion was Bishop’s birthday, and while he probably doesn’t want his age trumpeted, let’s just say that he’s outlived Kurt Cobain times two. Playing at the far end of the restaurant section of the venerable downtown pub, whose high ceiling creates an acoustic problem for whoever is running the sound board (in this case, Kevin Seconds), the Only Men—until recently known as the Holy Men—pumped out a set of guitar-guitar-bass-drums original power pop. It was solid on the instrumental side but occasionally experimented, albeit unintentionally, with vocal harmonic concepts outside the conventional 12-tone Western system. Part of the blame for that might be pinned on a crummy monitor mix and the venue’s clattery acoustics.
Despite the enduring popularity of the Beatles, power pop—with its emphasis on the get-in-get-out time constraints found on old hit singles and straightforward narratives that, topically, tend to favor close mixed-gender relationships—isn’t the quickest route to fame and fortune in the music business, especially for club bands. As longtime local music fan Mike West, himself a few years Bishop’s senior, put it, “I told Warren that if he wanted packed houses, he should start a jump-blues band.”
But Bishop’s band does what it does, without that moistened-finger-in-the-wind career planning that makes some musicians segue from goth rock to jump blues to country. Bishop, who looks kinda like a permed version of one of his heroes, the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet’s Terry Adams, was joined by fellow guitarist and occasional singer Todd Weber, bassist Larry Cox and new drummer Chris Amato, playing numbers from the Holy Men album Gearhead, along with several more recent songs. And the turnout wasn’t bad.
Part of the attraction might have been the middle act, Adam Marsland’s Chaos Band, which traveled up from Los Angeles. Marsland and his previous band, Cockeyed Ghost, have developed a bit of a cult following locally, along with a mutual-admiration society with Seconds and Anton Barbeau. Marsland has played the old True Love Coffeehouse—which Seconds and his wife, Allyson, will reopen sometime this summer at new digs on the 2300 block of K Street—and Luna’s Cafe. Bishop, himself a True Love fixture, had invited Marsland up to play his birthday gig at the Fox & Goose.
When the Chaos band’s set worked, the harmonies were quite Beach Boy-esque; Marsland has had a professional association with the Beach Boys’ Al Jardine. When it didn’t, it was like listening to a “rock” musical cooked up by a college drama department whose primary reference point was Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. A highlight was guitarist Evie Sands, who recorded for A&M in the 1960s and Haven/Capitol after that. She wrapped her big voice around the Hollies’ 1965 hit “I Can’t Let Go,” the original version of which she recorded. And Marsland did the handclap-over-head cliché not once, but three times.
Local pop-power trio Army of Trees closed the show. More about them another time.