Live Last Night Weekend Report: Woven Hand, Pierced Arrows, Vivian Girls and The Band With a Naughty Name

It's CMJ leftovers season in D.C., so I was busy this weekend. A quick rundown...

Woven Hand is just about the most perfect God-fearing apocalyptic rustic-folk band you could hope for. The trio, led by former 16 Horsepower frontman David Eugene Edwards, came to Iota on Friday night and played a set that was equally enjoyable and unsettling. Things are not well in the Woven Hand universe. Edwards has been mining the dark side of spirituality for the better part of two decades now, and he seems as tortured a soul as ever.

He wailed the lyrics to every song as if they were confessionals or visions of impending doom. "See the small dogs come running/See the poor dogs come running/See the horsemen come after/See the horsemen come laughing," he belted on "Kicking Bird." OK, he didn't write those lyrics (it's a Native American chant), but that sense of foreboding was present for the entire set, starting with a particularly dreary version of Dylan's "As I Went Out One Morning," featuring Edwards on mandolin. He switched to guitar for the majority of the set, and with just bass and drums accompaniment, the band worked up an impressive, swirling racket. There was almost something orchestral about the songs, like they wouldn't seem too out of place as the soundtrack to one of those scenes in "Lord of the Rings" where the ugly evil guys were getting ready to do bad things. Edwards' distorted guitar emitted a low hum in between songs so there was never any silence, never any time to take a breath and relax.

Authenticity is hard to pinpoint, but by whatever measure you use, Pierced Arrows have it. Looking at the trio on stage Saturday night at DC9, it was easy to tell it was their natural habitat. Drummer Kelly Halliburton, wearing a sleeveless Black Sabbath t-shirt and a Marky Ramone haircut, was flanked by bassist Toody and guitarist Fred Cole, a husband/wife duo, each 60 years old, who have been playing rock-and-roll for more than half of their lives. Until a couple years ago they did it under the name Dead Moon, but called it quits in 2006 after nearly 20 years of backwoods, garage rock fury. They regrouped as Pierced Arrows, with Halliburton in the fold, because, well, they play rock-and-roll. It's what they know.

On Saturday they played a rousing set that was as no-frills as it comes, with none of the stylized elements that are a part of the 21st century garage rock revival. If AC/DC was from a small town outside of Portland, Ore., maybe they'd sound like Pierced Arrows. The songs are more ragged and slightly less riffy than those of Australia's biggest band, but Fred Cole possesses the same sort of shrill scream. And it's not for everyone. One woman standing in front of me was not a fan, to say the least. I looked over her shoulder as she typed out texts to her (presumably) boyfriend. Text #1: "I hate his voice HATE." Text #2: "[Expletive] HATE!" Text #3 (from him to her): "Like gargling broken glass." (I am always looking over your shoulder at what you are texting, just so you know.)

His voice can be a bit grating, but it just adds to the urgency of the songs. They charged through most of the sludgy numbers from this year's "Straight to the Heart," with "Guns of Thunder," "In My Brain" and a supercharged cover of Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul" serving as the highlights. The small but rambunctious crowd (people were falling down and one person got kicked out for trying to stomp a hole in the floor) wouldn't let them leave the stage and the band finished up with a dynamite version of Dead Moon anthem "54/40 or Fight" that would have made William Allen proud.

(Sunday night with Vivian Girls and "Freaked" Up after the jump.)

Watching Vivian Girls, who played at Rock and Roll Hotel on Sunday night, I was struck by the exact opposite feeling I got when watching Pierced Arrows. If Pierced Arrows exist out of necessity -- as in they would have no idea what to do if they weren't in a band -- Vivian Girls seem to exist out of curiosity. I'm projecting a lot here, but with Vivian Girls you get the feeling that the band formed when they were sitting around in Brooklyn one night and said, "Hey, all our friends are in bands, we should start a band, too!" (Sure enough, at the band's merch table there was a compilation on which a song of theirs was featured called "All Our Friends Are In Bands.") That's not necessarily a bad thing. But, through little fault of their own, Vivian Girls are starting to become more trouble than they're worth, mainly because they have one of the lowest FB ratios in the world. No, I'm not talking about something involving Chad Bradford; I'm talking about fan-to-blogger ratio. The band is aware of this and this weekend even took time this weekend to comment on a BrooklynVegan thread that they wished BV would stop writing about them. It's a definite case of biting the hand that feeds you, but maybe Vivian Girls realize that the charm of their band is that they are a perfectly nice indie-fuzz-pop band, but if they are treated as Next Big Thing -- which is what tends to happen when every blog gushes -- the backlash starts. I felt the same way about Sunday's performance as I did when I saw them back in August. Vivian Girls evoke classic indie-pop, a genre in which band's could become minor stars thanks to the right sound (heavy on the reverb, flat singing and shambolic playing) and one or two standout songs. Vivian Girls have all that, but it remains to be seen what else they have.

Vivian Girls were followed by The Band That Shall Not Be Named. The six-piece Toronto hardcore band broke a whole slew of my rules of the road right off the bat, as singer screamer Damian Abraham not only launched into a long monologue before the band played a song, but it was about politics. If he had then thanked us for "coming out on a Sunday night" before playing the first song off their new album, it would have been a perfect sweep. Express's Christoper Porter was there, with camera in hand (well, around neck), and he has the definitive take on their set, especially since I was racing back and forth between the downstairs performance area and upstairs bar to keep tabs on the Sox/Rays game. I'll just say that the band has more tricks up its sleeve than most hardcore bands -- hooks, an assaultive triple-guitar attack, and a lead singer who looks a bit like George "The Animal" Steele -- and their set-closing cover of Wire's "12XU" made Minor Threat's version sound like easy listening by comparison.

By David Malitz |  October 20, 2008; 2:48 PM ET Live Last Night
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You can name the band - there's gotta be something in the Post style guide about liberal (heh) use of asterisks...

Posted by: Hemisphire | October 20, 2008 4:37 PM

I was at the Vivian Girls/"Loved Up" pre-show performance at WMUC and I really enjoyed Vivian Girls. I don't think they're radically changing the game, but they play short sweet and enjoyable songs.

I still don't quite get "Loved Up." What is a hardcore band that's slowed down other than a punk band, right? I realize it's not quite that simple, but if you've got a band like say Boris who can cover just about any loud genre from very fast to very slow, "Loved Up" don't seem quite as interesting. They seemed like very nice people though, so points for that.

Posted by: MN | October 21, 2008 9:10 AM

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