Last Night: Three Mile Pilot at Neumos

This review of Three Mile Pilot comes courtesy of SW writer Greg Franklin, who gives us all the details on Rob Crow's many costume changes (sparkly bikini briefs and pirate wench outfits, anyone?) Without further ado:

What is it about rock clubs that makes them hotter than any other place on Earth? I'm not sure if it's the sheer amount of miscreants hanging out in the same place or this whole "rock is the devil's music" thing or what, but Neumos was a rotisserie oven last night for this awesome triple bill. If nothing else, I guess it's a good excuse to sweat out some of the summer toxins that have built up, but a room full of people who have all had way too many hot dogs and Pabst tall boys can be an absolute mess. Thankfully, the crowd was strong, but not TOO strong this Monday evening.

Local boys Navigator Vs. Navigator started out the show as perfectly as anyone could ask a band to fit the bill; drawing from a good portion of the mid-90's San Diego sound (more spazz-y, math-y and disjointed than 3 Mile Pilot), but also adding in some more modern influences (I heard a lot of Spencer Krug's Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade in the vocals and piano work, as well as Pall Jenkins' Black Heart Procession), the band was obviously having a blast, blending some darker piano rock with shouting, spastic parts, and making it seem about as effortless as possible. Making dark rock with heart that is also somehow danceable and catchy is not an easy task, and Navigator Vs. Navigator made it look really easy. Color me excited that these boys are local.

I knew to expect something fun out of Optiganally Yours, but I didn't expect the spectacle that awaited. Comprised of Pea Hicks (Physics, Tit Wrench) and Rob Crow (Pinback, Heavy Vegetable, Thingy) the band is essentially based off of their worship of the Optigan (a weird organ that Mattel made in the early 70's, similar to a Mellotron but using LP sized discs for samples). What happens is a strange mish-mash of breezy, funky yacht rock with Rob Crow's effortless vocals on it. On record, it's not necessary something that's all that funny, and is actually really pretty listenable and interesting. Live, it's a totally disparate experience, a thrift store Of Montreal show full of costume changes and props. Pea Hicks plays this stern, unhip dad character through the whole show, playing his organ parts, casting a steely glance over the audience, never looking like he's enjoying himself. Rob Crow started out the set scraggly, looking a bit like a hefty metal roadie in his Napalm Death shirt, scraggly beard and ratty hair.

Now, cut to Rob Crow singing and dancing in a pirate wench outfit with a duck in a leopard print dress and a cat in a Cosby sweater dancing behind him. Cut to Rob Crow wearing a tight tank top that says "Bitch" across it, singing about animals in the forest. Cut to Pea Hicks' unchanged deadened eyes peering out into the void. Cut to Rob Crow in black, sparkly bikini briefs playing guitar. Cue easy-disco versions of "Wichita Lineman" and "Little Spanish Flea". Cut to Rob Crow jumping off stage (seriously, I still don't understand Seattle's live music/drinking laws) to steal some gulps off of random audience guy's jumbo Red Stripe. Cut to way too much sweaty, husky man flesh on stage, bouncing around to goofy songs about bionic whales. Making a low-rent spectacle is an absolute blast for the people that are a part of it, but it's much harder to keep everyone in the audience as entertained as you are for being drunk and having a viking helmet on; Optiganally Yours thankfully have great musical legs to stand on. They kept things as crazy and sweaty and hilarious as possible the whole time, and actually were a refreshing, joyous break in the middle of two bands that are full of dark undertones and intensity.

Having the opportunity to finally see Three Mile Pilot was pretty amazing for me. Given that the band disappeared quietly sometime in the late 90's, and has barely had any sort of internet presence in the last 10 years, I assumed they were all but done for. Their post 3MP projects (The Black Heart Procession and Pinback) have garnered more accolades and press than 3MP ever did, and it doesn't seem like the band really made huge rumblings outside of the San Diego music scene, and certainly being a kid in the midwest didn't bode well for getting to see 3MP. Thankfully, everything about the band was what I thought it would be. Seemingly as much an art project as a band, the band still exists in that golden time frame pre-internet, when the greatest hope an indie rock band had of blowing up was getting mentioned in the right fanzine, when the notion of late night talk show appearances and stadium tours was the most ironic joke you could tell, but still was some weird dream in the back of your mind.

Listening to Three Mile Pilot, my mind fills with images of late night desperation, of captains who are lost at sea, of cursed lovers. Neumo's seemed especially dark and hot and just a little menacing this evening, and I can't imagine a better way to see the band. With random photos projected across the stage and multiple video projectors filling up the back of the stage with abstract images (controlled by a man side-stage), the mood was a little haunted and perfect to be watched with wide-eyed anticipation. The band doesn't resort to "How we feeling tonight, Seattle?" cues, but just lets the music and abstract imagery set the VH1 storytellers explanations of what "Bolivia's Burning" is all about. While there were some noticeable classics missing from the setlist ("Eastern Wave", and a three second attempt at the much-yelled about "Glitter Wave"), the classics that were hit ("Longest Day", "Way Of the Ocean", "Shang Vs. Hanger", "Aqua Magnetic", "91-MT") were so well played that it was easy to forgive. I was amazed not just by their musicianship (watching Zach Smith play bass is something like watching a mathematical magician; totally technical and you get what is happening but have no idea how it's being accomplished), but by the fact that these songs have held up for 15 or so years and have stayed every bit as epic and important as they were when I first heard them. As if I needed a reason for the show being totally unforgettable, getting the chance to sing my heart out to "Year of No Light" with Rob Crow down in the crowd right beside me doing the exact same thing pretty much sealed the deal. Let's just hope it's not another 10 years before we see Three Mile Pilot cross our waters again.

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