You know the old saw about how few people bought the first Velvet Underground album, but everyone who did ended up playing music. Art Brut—a London outfit so of-the-moment that their Saturday, March 25, show at Neumo's was two-thirds full despite the fact that their debut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, doesn't receive its official U.S. release until the end of May—certainly do. The album's opening song, which also kicked off their Seattle appearance, at once celebrates and mocks the musician's impulse: "Look at us! We formed a band!" frontman Eddie Argos yelps before vowing to "write a song as universal as 'Happy Birthday' that makes sure everybody knows everything is going to be OK."
Art Brut is a mighty enough band to live up to those tongue-in-cheek aspirations—mighty enough to render Argos' hilariously knowing lyrics irrelevant for those who couldn't make them out amid the blare. Sporting a mustache, a blazer, a golf shirt, and a paunch, Argos looked ludicrous: an indie-rock Alan Partridge. His wry, wild enthusiasm underlined what registered as one continuous monologue-with-songs about his absurd, hapless thrall to rock and roll, art, and life. Like the Pooh Sticks before them, Art Brut dice and slice their obsessions into catchy shout-alongs that ultimately affirm that thrall, even as they dissect it, trying to figure out what makes it go.
Unlike openers Serena Maneesh, who took their shoegazer affectations far past the point of overseriousness, Art Brut insisted on smart F-U-N as a first principle. Argos exhorted his fellows with a Jonathan Richman–esque "You ready, Art Brut?" and assured the crowd that "You don't have to buy this; I'm independently wealthy." But then how would he reach his rock dream, summed up in the show-ending chant "Art Brut! Top of the Pops! Art Brut! Top of the Pops!"? Maybe he doesn't share his apathy about record sales with English audiences. Or perhaps he suspected that a lot of us already own the record.
By the time Argos was engaged in the critical thought of "Bang Bang Rock & Roll" ("I can't stand the sound of the Velvet Underground/I can't stand that sound the second time around"), he'd surely won over anyone who hadn't already bought it. Giddy with Art Brut's collision of sonics and meaning, he fantasized about his next visit to Seattle, at which time he planned to find each one of us and ask, "Are you in a band?" If we weren't, he promised, he'd be "very disappointed." Eddie Argos started a joke about rock and roll, but as another old saw goes, there's a kernel of truth in every jest. In this case, loving truth.