Tapes 'n Tapes: The Metro, 4-11-08

Sun May 11 2008

The last time I saw Tapes ‘n Tapes, at the Abbey Pub in May of 2007, they were still hungry. The hype had long since died down since they had bowled everyone over at SXSW in 2006, and their lauded debut, The Loon, was old news, but the band was still clearly eager to impress as they tore through a stunning set, which was bolstered by a few brand new songs that sounded raw but promising. In the year since, the group finished its second full-length, Walk It Off, which was released April 8 to mixed critical reaction. While the album is ostensibly an attempt to better represent the band’s live sound, last Friday’s performance at the Metro suggests that that might not be the best strategy any more, given the corresponding lack of energy and excitement from a band that was brimming with both a year ago.
The confines of the Metro were the first problem. While the venue has hosted many legendary performances (perhaps most famously the final Smashing Pumpkins show in December of 2000),(oh, shut the hell up—you probably think Alice In Chains and Blind Melon are still real bands, don’t you?) and deserves a ton of credit for bolstering the music community in Chicago, it is one of the most logistically unsound venues imaginable. The flat balcony is particularly confusing, allowing for potentially two or three rows of craning necks and fifteen feet of unusable space behind them. The main floor is walled off from the bar area, squeezing pockets of spectators out into the corridor like sausage from a meat grinder. To top it off, the sound in the Metro is invariably muddy and overdriven, but this almost made sense given Tapes ‘n Tapes’s new, belligerently rough-hewn aesthetic. Venues like the Metro get by because underground bands don’t have the luxury of caring how good they’re going to sound in different rooms; they have to play wherever they can get fans to come out to, and hooking up a headlining gig at the Metro was a victory in prestige for the band, if not in musical terms.
“Jakov’s Theme” was a great choice to open the set with, but it was a sloppy rendition, and after the initial burst of energy, the song never gained back its momentum and ended awkwardly. The barrage of new material that followed stuck pretty close to the album versions, but even murkier. Songs like “George Michael” and “Conquest” really don’t boast much intensity to begin with, but “Le Ruse,” one of the album’s most raucous tunes, actually lost steam live, and “Headshock” fell completely flat, an unintelligible mess. Even when the band returned to its older material, the songs seemed to have regressed to primitive forms of themselves, but with no primal energy; “Just Drums” just plodded along, directionless, and “Cowbell” was actually disjointedly fun but still felt clumsy. It was as if the band, possessed of such melodic finesse, was willfully dumbing itself down to generic garage clang.
The highlight of the set came unexpectedly during “In Houston,” a song that I hadn’t perceived much potential in, but the band suddenly came ferociously alive, out of nowhere; it wasn’t really until the end of the song that I fully realized how dull the set had been until then. “Omaha” felt natural even in the distorted echoes that filled the room, and it had the crowd swooning and singing along. Following this, the throng thinned out a bit, and the band rounded out its set with some of its best songs, “The Dirty Dirty,” “Insistor,” and “Demon Apple,” adequately played but again, lacking the flare for dynamic this band is surely still capable of. Overall, Tapes ‘n Tapes performed with the swagger of a band that knows it’s already won people over. Unless this show was an anomaly, these guys need to relearn what it’s like to have something to prove.

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