Well, it looked like the same 60 people were on hand last night at The Waiting Room that were at The Howard St. Tavern 14 years ago. I have to admit I was a little bummed at the turnout, but after all, there were a lot of shows going on last night. Actually, that’s no excuse. The real reason why this show didn’t draw is because people ’round these parts just don’t get/understand/like this style of music. It has nothing to do with the quality of the band, it has to everything to do with the style of music they play — straight-on ’80s-flavored post-ambient bleak-rock a la Joy Division. For Against (in one form or another) have been playing this style of music for more than 20 years, and have always drawn the same few but loyal fans. The average age last night had to be in the 30s, though there were a few youngsters there, including For Against’s new drummer, Spring Gun’s Nick Buller, who was nothing less than stellar, having only practiced with the band three times (ever) before taking the stage. Buller is a powerhouse, with the huge, booming chops that this style of music needs — nay, demands — to be effective. Buller, who’s young enough to be Runnings’ or Dingman’s son, was flawless, as if he’d been playing with the band since the ’80s. This music is quite a contrast to the Explosions in the Sky-style post-rock that Spring Gun is known for. It is, in fact, much more intricate and unforgiving — there is no second drummer (as in Spring Gun) to smooth over the rough spots, just Buller sitting alone on the riser giving one of the most impressive performances from a drummer I’ve seen this year. Hope he has his passport in order, because it sounds like he’ll be joining the band for its upcoming shows to Spain this year and a European tour early next year.
It’s a good thing he had it all going last night, as Runnings and Dingman were in prime form. I spoke to a few folks who have seen For Against over the years — they told me it was the best this band sounded since the original line-up days in the late ’80s. Runnings’ voice has not aged, it has the same high, childlike tone heard on those early recordings, the perfect, almost ironic counterpoint to the band’s bleak, lonely, lost music. Runnings of course played his upside-down bass for lefties and doubled on keyboards, while Dingman soared on electric guitar (including a 12-string Ovation), occasionally kneeling in front of his amp, praying to the god of feedback.
For Against played favorites from the reissued early discs, including “Echelons,” “December,” “Autocrat,” and Euro dance hit “Amen Yves.” But other highlights included a number of new songs that carry on the same For Against style but with a heavier, more chopped guitar sound. I’m looking forward to that new disc in early ’08.
By the end of the set, the crowd had moved in front of the stage, and the scene looked like a rock show. After their set, people yelled out requests, begging for an encore and getting it — one song because that’s all they had prepared. That’ll have to change as they get ready for Europe and crowds that won’t take no for an answer. Here’s hoping they blow up across the water, and people here begin to wonder why they can’t get another For Against show. Maybe in another 14 years.
Opening band Pharmacy Spirits also put on a good show. I wondered why I had never heard of them before, until someone explained that the band is two-thirds of Lincoln’s Bad Sects (with a different bass player). It was the guitarist/frontman who made it work, showing off some impressive skills on the ol’ ax. Sounds like they have a new album coming out soon as well.
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Tonight at The Waiting Room, it’s Qui, featuring David Yow of The Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid. Will Yow show off his trademark gonzo stage antics? Pay your $10 and find out. In fact, get there early for The Stay Awake and The Lepers.
If you’re not up for the crazy shit, head on down to Slowdown Jr. for Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan, with The Winston Jazz Routine. $10, 8 p.m.
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