Monday, July 7, 2008

The Oranges Band w/ Bombers and Smoking Popes at the Blender Theater 7/05/08

It’s been three years since the Oranges Band released their last album, the fantastic but largely ignored The World and Everything In It. I became a fan of the band only within the last year and felt pretty sure they’d get around to formally calling it quits before I’d ever get to see them perform live. Thankfully I’m horrible at predictions. The band took a break from recording their new album to play a few shows with the recently reunited Smoking Popes, including one at New York’s Blender Theater.

Playing a gig during the Fourth of July weekend—especially in a city where so many people leave for long weekends—is a recipe for a low turnout, and this show was no exception. Bombers, a wannabe punk band from the Bronx, played to about 100 people, including their friends and parents (and possibly their friends’ parents).

Most of the crowd, which I would guess peaked at 300, were geeked up to see the Smoking Popes (including the guys from Bombers who went a little Wayne and Garth on stage). A few concertgoers dusted off their threadbare 7 Seconds and Agnostic Front and the Damned concert Ts for the occasion. I wasn’t familiar with the Chicago-based Popes until a couple weeks ago, but apparently they were a much-loved (if only modestly successful) punk band back in the ‘90s. They’re back together and released their new album, Stay Down, in March.

As punk bands go, the Popes are of the pop variety. Not much separates their music from the likes of Weezer. In fact, the song “If You Don’t Care” from Stay Down makes me think of Fountains of Wayne on (mild) steroids. And the song’s verses sound like something from Little Buddy’s For Those About To Pop. Check it out here.

It was a bit funny to see aging punk fans so excited over what seems like a pure pop band disguised by a bunch of distortion—sheep in wolves’ clothing. (How different is “If You Don’t Care” from “That Thing You Do” by the Wonders?*) Within the same genre, I think Ruth Ruth’s songs were more interesting and more vivid. (Here’s Ruth Ruth’s “Jerome.”) But enough about that.

Sandwiched between these pomo-punk acts was the Oranges Band, pride of Baltimore. Frontman Roman Kuebler, wearing a blue windbreaker over a red T-shirt, immediately won over the crowd with his playful, unassuming personality. “We’re gonna be about three-quarters as loud as the other bands tonight—and that’s OK.”

The Oranges Band have recruited longtime Guided By Voices guitarist Doug Gillard to play on the new album and on a few tour dates, though it seems he’s not a full member of the band (not that he wasn’t invited, I’m guessing). Kuebler gave him a bit of praise mid-set and noted, “He even learned some of our old jams,” before the band launched into “I’ll Never Be Alone.”

Not surprisingly, most of the Oranges’ set was dedicated to new material, which they played with joyful abandon. “Gordon’s Nightclub,” named after a Baltimore watering hole, is a catchy, danceable number with a surprising time change to keep things interesting. It’s simply a great indie rock song. “On Star” (or possibly “OnStar”) was loud and fun and easily as energetic as anything the band has done. And the aptly titled “Absolutely (Instru)mental,” inspired in part by Laika & the Cosmonauts’ “NY ’79,” gave Gillard even more opportunity to shine.

One of the things I love about this band, and perhaps specifically Kuebler as a vocalist, is their comfort within the spaces of their songs. Kuebler often sings at a leisurely pace, occasionally delivering words or phrases after the line they seem to belong to has passed. His technique mirrors his own casual ease, as if nothing is of much importance. Sometimes, parts of songs seem to elongate as needed to allow breathing room around the vocals, as if to say “no need to rush; we’re not saving lives, we’re just rocking.”

Although they didn’t play some of my favorites (“OK Apartment” or “Atmosphere” or “Open Air”) the new songs were easily just as entertaining. I spoke with Kuebler briefly afterward and I’m sad to report there is no target date for finishing or releasing the new album. (It’s still in progress.)

No worry, though. At least we can look forward to its eventual arrival, which is more than I had reason to hope for a few months ago. I kept that in mind as I walked to the subway with strains of the fiery closing performance of “Ride The Nuclear Wave” in my ears. “Oh, oh, oh, oh!”

* “That Thing You Do” was written by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, incidentally.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Funny how you compare songs of bands in your article. Although I do like The Oranges Band material, the song of theirs that is posted is basically a sped up Pegboy song "through my fingers". Try listening to the early popes stuff and you'll see more of their punk side.