Live Review: Art Brut @ Black Cat, 6/22/2011

In the seven or so odd years since I first felt the jarring, exciting thrums of Art Brut's "Formed a Band," I've had the pleasure of seeing the lads and lady in the glorious live arena on more than one occasion. However, until this Black Cat sojourn, it had been many a year since I'd been in the company of the Brut. And you know what, friends? I had, shamefully, all but managed to forget that Art Brut is one of my favorite live bands around. Thankfully, though, they gave me plenty of reminders. I shan't forget again.

They emerged to the strains of the tasteful, subtle nuances of Van Halen, probably one of the best introductory music selections I've heard. The band began with "Clever Clever Jazz," the first song off new record Brilliant! Tragic!. Y'know, the one where Eddie Argos actually sings for the first time on an Art Brut record. I'll admit, it didn't actually take all that long to remember why I so verily enjoy seeing Art Brut live. In addition to the music itself, the band exudes this wonderful, grounded (not to mention silly) air. Either they've been studying acting lately or this band still loves getting up on stage and playing for the punters. Oh, and they're hilarious. Before next song "My Little Brother," Argos deadpanned, "This one's about my brother...who's younger than me." We were then informed that, "My little brother is 29 now and a teacher, the last thing he needs is me going around and saying he's out of control," a remark that garnered quite a few chuckles. But that was just the beginning. Argos, nay the entire band, was in rarer than rare form on this night.

The band endeared themselves to DC forever by Eddie's proclaiming the Black Cat his "favorite venue in America." And then informed us that, "I'm babbling because I've been drinking." The crowd lapped it up, both the humor and the songs. One of my favorite moments in the set came just before playing "Direct Hit," when Eddie stated that, "The lead singer handbook dictates that after you play a new song, you have to play a hit." After a pause, he zinged, "We don't have any hits, but we have a song with "hit" in the title." Such older songs sounded absolute dynamite, as fun and razor-sharp and tongue-in-cheek as ever. New songs, too, sounded even better than I had expected. "Lost Weekend" was splendid, and I get a kick out of the nod to Nancy & Frank's "Somethin' Stupid" ("I'm sorry if I embarassed you/by saying something stupid like I love you"), not to mention the gleeful bounce of the song itself.

"This next song is about dancing in an art gallery," Argos began as the band let loose one of my absolute favorite Art Brutisms, "Modern Art" (or, as I've written in my notes, "Modern Fucking Art"). Ever one for the risky game of in-song improvisation, Argos took a break from hopping all over the stage to engage in some serious tale-telling about Van Gogh (pronounced GOFF, of course) and the Van Gogh museum and ended up improvising himself "into a corner," while most of the crowd joined him in sitting on the club's floor. It was a perfect encapsulation of the live Art Brut experience. "Modern art makes me want to buy a tee shirt," he sang, adapting lyrics to encourage a little consumerism. Requests were encouraged, and an oldie but very goody was thereby included in the set. "18,000 Lira" still feels breathlessly, wonderfully silly. And then, finally, caving into peer pressure from the audience, came the perennial Art Brut-ian "Emily Kane," a hands-down crowd favorite. Classic.

Deftly mixing old and new, the band jauntily skipped along through excellent newness like "Martin Kemp" and the beloved elder statesmenness of "Good Weekend." An encore was, happily, in the cards, and "Formed a Band" was the highlight. "Yes, this is...used to real singing voice," laughed Argos, as his mates carved the air with their sharp, taut notes.

My first Art Brut show was at the Black Cat, many years back. So in a way it's fitting to see them here, once more putting on one hell of a show. The showmanship! The musicianship! The puns/jokes/humor! I ask you, darling friends, what's not to love? That was rhetorical, but I'll spell it out for you all the same. The answer, loves, is nothing. Top of the bloody Pops, indeed.

mp3: Modern Art (Art Brut from Bang Bang Rock & Roll)


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