May 16, 2005

MUSCLE, MOOD AND MELODY

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Sweating out a night of indie rock

Danko Jones/The Comas/Mando Diao
The Mercury Lounge -- New York, N.Y.
April 25, 2005

The members of Canadian trio Danko Jones (above) make their mission abundantly clear: to exert themselves to the fullest, even if it means punishing their bodies and their instruments along the way in the name of balls-to-the-wall rock.

Such ambition is hinted at both in the content and title alone of the band’s new album, We Sweat Blood (Razor & Tie), and on the opening date of its first American tour, the musicians showed plenty enough inspiration and perspiration to carry it out.

Soon after a set-opening, blistering version of the current disc's title track, singer/guitarist Danko Jones (yes, it's the band's name and his) implored the still-arriving crowd to emotionally vest themselves in the performance, as he ordered patrons to "make me work harder so I can sweat more for you." Sweating was the least of the band's worries. Danko, the hard-driving bassist known simply as J.C. and forceful drummer Damon Richardson soaked right through their matching all-black outfits by the time their half-hour opening slot was barely half over.

Over the course of nine songs, Danko -- who clenches his face intensely as he delivers each line, and between songs speaks with the growl-like vigor more often heard in professional wrestlers' pre-match interviews -- and his comrades toed the line between the riff-heavy sleaze of early AC/DC and heavy-metal cheese. "I Love Living in the City" was a fine example of both elements; lyrically, it comes off as a bit lunkheaded, but the raw power on display -- particularly by Richardson, who found time between relentless beats to add backing vocals on the exuberant chorus -- was too impressive to be dismissed.

The threesome also found a steady groove at times, particularly on the infectious "Dance," an ode to a woman who wants to "tear the place up," and on "Lovercall," in which Danko details some desired sexual positions over J.C.'s booming, seductive bass line.

The lyrics are not all lowest-common-denominator fodder; Danko sneaks in the occasional clever line or rhyme, such as the nod to fellow Toronto product Neil Young: "When she dances I can really love."

Still, the all-too-short set's finale found Danko offering a seemingly endless soliloquy about his musical inspirations and having the wherewithal to get to the top of "the mountain" -- and then giving himself several loud whacks to the face. It was full tilt right till the end, but alas, no blood was drawn.

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Following Danko Jones were The Comas (above), who provided quite a contrast to the openers, in that their music left room for subtlety and lowered the testosterone level in the club considerably (and not just because the band has a female guitarist). The five-piece outfit from Chapel Hill, N.C., drew heavily from last year's album Conductor, and showed that all the miles racked up on the road have turned the players into contemplative indie-pop perfectionists.

The Comas' apparent influences are many, but classifying them proved difficult, a testament to the versatility of singer/songwriter Andy Herod's material. "Moonbeam" was a welcome slice of trippy pop; a triple vocal attack and organ swells made "Employment" a standout track; and "Hologram" began as a bit of atmospheric new-wave before kicking into a full-fledged rocker on the second verse.

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Closing things out before a suddenly packed house were Mando Diao (above), a young quintet of 20-something Swedes who unleashed an hour-plus of feverish Brit-pop bliss. Suffice it to say The Jam's albums are readily available in this band's homeland, but they also owe a debt to Oasis; Bjorn Dixgard -- one of two singer/guitarists -- is a Noel Gallagher sound-alike.

The lads scored with several catchy cuts from their latest disc, Hurricane Bar, which recently saw a U.S. release, but such older tracks as "Sweet Ride" and "Paralyzed" suggested their back catalog is work hunting for. The latter tune's sugary vocals and raucous energy sounded like Lennon and McCartney fronting the MC5.

Mando Diao's only misstep came right before showtime, as the guitar tech made sure to manufacture some loud feedback out of the guitar monitors as the band made its arrival onstage. Such calculated maneuvers are not needed when a band makes noise as good as this.

-- By George Henn

Posted by medleyville at May 16, 2005 10:52 AM
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