So off I went to my first live show since moving to NYC. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is unfamiliarity, this was my first major foray on the subway. (I’ve now got my-my-my-metrocard.) Also not the least of which, my wife was in town, so we got to combine our adventurousness and cancel out the nerves of visiting a new venue. Fittingly, we went out for musical comfort food, seeing my homestate-by-way-of Brooklyn faves Swearin’, who I’ve written about here before, playing at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.
Getting down there was a piece of cake, taking the Green line down to the L train and over to Williamsburg, the closest neighborhood in Brooklyn (although I got temporarily separated from my fellow traveller when we had to flee the first subway car we entered with the rest of the passengers due to extremely fragrant vomitus emitted by a lonely subway denizen).
We did Thai food at Sea, which was recommended by Joe Levy—appropriately named, it was indeed a sea of hipsters in a Pan-Asian disco, with a concerningly high prevalence of high-heeled drunk women. The food was passable (the shrimp vermicelli pot was so-so, the vegetable curry pretty great), but the reason to go there is definitely the spectacle.
The other reason to go to Sea is that it’s a block from the Music Hall, which is a great big black-all-over cavern with bars everywhere (my favorite kind of music joint). But before we go there let’s backtrack a little bit and talk about Swearin’, shall we? Get your scorecards out.
You probably know that Swearin’ is a Crutchfield venture, and Allison (formerly of P.S. Eliot but going all the way back to the teenage Ackleys with her sister of Katie, who now helms The Walking Dead-validated Waxahatchee) is an indie rock force majeure. But Swearin’ is not a singer-plus-band setup a la the Old 97s or the beloved Hold Steady: we are talking about both a real honest-to-God Clash-like musical ensemble and a modern day hippie commune all in one. About half the vocals and writing credits go to Kyle Gilbride, who also shares the burden of guitar with Allison. On the side, so to speak, Kyle produced the transcendent 2013 Waxahatchee album Cerulean Salt, so that’s a thing, and of course according to Facebook he’s in a relationship with Allison. And Swearin’s bass player is Keith Spencer, who is also half of the lo-fi pop-off valve/ musical Jackson Pollack temper tantrum called Great Thunder with (you guessed it if you were paying attention) sister Katie when he’s not also drumming for Waxahatchee and I guess he and Katie share a pad too. Follow?
So now that I’ve introduced everyone, let’s go to the show. We settled into a reasonably secure corner that we never moved from. As oldsters we were treated with respect, observed several acts of discrete sexuality with pleasure and fond amusement, and only had beer spilled on us once. There were two opening bands but we only caught Even Hand, whose heavy math rock triangulates Wire, Pavement, and MoB formally and affirmatively if not yet winningly. I’d like to give them a hug and tell them to keep on growing, but I doubt they’d like that very much.
Swearin’ doesn’t need a hug. They hug themselves—forget this being a semi-star turn, this is a red-hot band B-A-N-D. Maybe not Lennon-McCartney, but let’s give it up for Crutchfield-Gilbride, who together define a zeitgeist better than Malkmus-Kannberg and approaching Strummer-Jones even if their power-punk is more akilter than all and even if their music still isn’t quite up to Pavement (much less Clash) standards. What makes the Swearin’ duo work is how Gilbride and Crutchfield define their genders and ages in such a complimentary manner. Gilbride is probably 25, looks 18, and sings like he’s 12, in a voice just shy of a whine ranting about “crashing on the couch” and “Is this as good as it gets?” Crutchfield, about the same age, wants more than a crush: “I want to see what insides look like when they feel the way yours do”. Give it up for this band, nobody’s said exactly that before.
Live in front of a friendly crowd, they managed to shred and charm in equal portions, a veteran’s trick few bands this young master. The band drank beer and Red Bull in equal proportions. When someone in the crowd yelled out (in jest, for sure) “Shut the fuck up”, they smiled. When someone threw beer on the stage, they smiled and moved their guitar cords out of the way. Swearin’ tore through 16 songs plus two encores in less than 90 minutes, peaking as one is supposed to at the end with “Dust In the Goldsack” followed by the haunted “Loretta’s Flowers” to encore. Did you notice the drummer? Cuz I sure did. Verdict: Best loud-fast show I’ve seen since Wild Flag.