August 11, 2009
Harvey Danger, Jukebox the Ghost, Valley Lodge @ The Bell House | 8.8.09
JezebelMusic.com @ The Bell House
August 8, 2009 | Harvey Danger, Jukebox the Ghost, Valley Lodge
Last Saturday The Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn, hosted the second show of Harvey Danger’s six-stop farewell tour. It was one of those rare existential crisis-inspiring shows that makes one wary of the ageist nature of rock music and the fickleness of pop. It was a show that ultimately inspired a sort of optimistic and perhaps obvious understanding that the real impact of a band isn’t the amount of records sold (or the popularity of a single), but its meaningful influence on a small number of people.
The opener, Valley Lodge, had a ’90s-inspired sound that was remarkably appropriate for the occasion. The band blasted into the song “Every Little Thing”, which sounded like the slacker side of Dinosaur Jr., or a loving tribute to the Old 97’s. Lodge is a project of the writer/comedian/UCB regular Dave Hill, who introduced each song as one of their “greatest hits,” and shredded his fair share of guitar solos. The band is a treat to watch, and I recommend that everyone in the New York area check them out.
Next up was the Philadelphia trio Jukebox the Ghost, whose sound and lineup begs comparisons to Ben Folds Five. It was piano rock, except without Folds’ self-conscious and ironic sensibilities. They played a hyperactive take on Queen’s songwriting flare. The guitarist, Tommy Siegel, must be a Brian May fan, as a few of his leads had the same trebly, pinched, neatly diatonic arrangement reminiscent of May’s style. The fourth song in their set, “Hold It In,” had an offbeat hook in the chorus that would have made Klaus Nomi’s ears perk up. The band is a testament to the joys that can be found in Philadelphia’s power-pop scene.
After Jukebox it was Harvey Danger’s turn. As they set up I couldn’t help but put myself in the band’s shoes, which made me incredibly anxious: how does one wrap up nearly twenty years of playing music as a band? Even something as basic as the set list would seem to create a logjam of anxiety. (Given the finite amount of time, should you play your favorite songs and risk disappointing your fans, your most popular songs which may also be the ones that you don’t think really define you as a band, or the songs you love but have rarely played live and that might not move the crowd?)
There were other evident pressures, too, as any announcement of the show online was met with a few sarcastic comments along the lines of “Paranoia, paranoia!” (A reference to their 1998 hit, “Flagpole Sitta”) or with a befuddled “They’re still around?” The most frustrating part of this snarky criticism was its reliance on the assumption that a band is irrelevant if their new material, regardless of its quality, can’t match the popularity of previous hits. The number of ways the whole show could have been an embarrassing, catastrophic failure seemed to outweigh any chance at a positive outcome.
Harvey Danger’s answer to all of this was to play a total of 28 songs in a three-hour set (and this was without the padding of extended jams, of which there were none). The set included most of their back-catalogue and most of their b-sides, with “Flagpole Sitta” lovingly placed in the middle of the set, energy-filled and without any implicit irony or relish.
Harvey Danger’s set opened with an introduction by John Hodgman, probably best known for his personification of a PC in the Apple Computer commercials. “I’m a minor television personality, but I’m also a fan of the Harvey Danger,” he began, and then continued by saying he wouldn’t be watching the show with us “groundlings” who were “packed together like animals,” but instead would “be watching from the Bell House Sky Box.”
Harvey Danger then took the stage, beginning with “Humility on Parade.” Frontman Sean Nelson’s stage presence had tinges of Morrissey’s Oscar Wilde in a rock band, but wasn’t derivative. It was a pleasure to watch Nelson deliver some of his lines, screaming select words for emphasis and then gently, seamlessly, pulling back for the softer parts of the song. The rest of the band (Jeff Lin on guitar, Aaron Huffman on bass, Michael Welke on drums, and Rob Knop on keyboards) was relatively phlegmatic, but made up for it by playing a near-immaculate set.
The early part of the set was mostly newer material from their Internet release, Little By Little. The album can still be downloaded from their website, for free, at HarveyDanger.com. Some older favorites were played later in the set, including “Terminal Annex”, “Radio Silence”, and “Private Helicopter.” (The latter was played only after Nelson asked the audience if it wasn’t in poor taste to perform a song about a helicopter the same day that one crashed in the Hudson River.
They had two encores, which together were nearly longer than the main set. Both encores were comprised almost entirely of requests from the crowd. In between each song, the band took questions from the audience, which included the offbeat, “Who is faster, Superman or the Flash?” and the serious,“When is your reunion tour happening?” and “Which song is your most personal?” (Nelson: “Jack the Lion.”) Their final song was “The Same As Being In Love,” which was accompanied by an extended, heartfelt thanks from the band to the crowd.
And so, yes, the band had a successful farewell show, in which they played incredibly well, and yes, Harvey Danger, after nearly twenty years and by all accounts a “one hit wonder,” can transcend the fickle nostalgia that often looms over bands that have stuck around past one decade. It would seem that a lot of people will truly miss them.
by Joe Veix
Check out more pictures of the show here.