When I first listened to Chain and the Gang (i.e. Ian Svenonius and company) several months ago, my first impression was that Down with Liberty...Up with Chains! sounded a whole lot like the Velvet Underground. In person, though, the band bore only a passing resemblance to their recorded incarnation, and decidedly less like the Velvet Underground redux, which is probably good. Because there were a billion other things going on Friday night, the Vera Project was maybe half-full at best. And that was really too bad, because all three of the K Records bands on the bill are really great.
I missed Wallpaper, who write '60s inspired rock and roll songs for the modern age, but fortunately, they play shows here often. And in a surprise twist, my favorite part of the evening turned out to be Hive Dwellers, Calvin Johnson's new project. In it, Johnson came off like a more sociable Jonathan Richman, except that Johnson's deep crooner's voice is-- I hate to say it, but it's true-- nicer than Richman's. I know, I know, I have compared both Chain and the Gang and now Calvin Johnson to Jonathan Richman, but what can I say? JR's music has inspired a lot of people. I came away thinking that the Hive Dwellers may just wind up being my favorite Calvin Johnson endeavor thus far. And the reverence the room had for the guy was obvious, though I think sometimes certain crowds go too far with the reverence and mistakenly appear to be comatose. It's okay to show enthusiasm, guys. Really. Calvin Johnson even commended my friend for whooping and making lots of noise.Ian Svenonius came onstage wearing a white suit (pictured courtesy of Sarah Cass) and a smirk, and fortunately, the crowd perked up a bit for him. From the way he struts, it's obvious that the guy holds himself in high esteem. And fair enough; he's paid his scene dues and even if he hadn't, he's still the ringleader of this gang. Everyone else in the band is obviously just there to realize his revolutionary vision. Without much to-do, Svenonius and friends promptly began performing bouncy music that should've gotten the kids dancing, except that everyone had just been sitting on the ground during Hive Dwellers and so it took a while for them to get into the spirit of things.
I can't say that the music isn't catchy as hell. It is, and I was dancing and twisting all over the Vera Project's slippy, slide-y floor in my slippy, slide-y new faux-silk slippers (which brings me to this: kids, we need to bring back the sock hop, STAT). But the concept of the whole project-- that freedom breeds bad decisions -- is downright acerbic. It's the hyperbolic equivalent of sawing off a carnivore's leg and roasting it on a spit to prove that eating meat is wrong. And unfortunately, whatever point he was really trying to make got suffocated in all the sarcasm. All I really wanted to do was give up on any serious attempts at analysis, hop around (in my socks!) and listen to the music while I still could. You know, before Svenonius' gang takes over the world and eradicates our liberties.