For any Polyvinyl devotee and music fan in general–like myself–Thursday night was more of a jubilant festival than a conventional concert. The show was essentially a family party for all three bands on the bill, despite the disparate qualities among them. There existed a special kind of kinship among The Rentals, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and Mates of State–not because they’ve all released records on Polyvinyl (Mates of State with three Polyvinyl releases before signing with Barsuk), but because the feeling of separation between openers and headliners people usually feel at concerts didn’t exist.
“It’s going to be all Phil Spector,” said the Rentals frontman Matt Sharp (Or at least something along the line of that) as he created the pre-show playlist on his MacBook and explained how the one for his last show apparently “just didn’t feel like the Rentals.”
“Is it dedicated to the release of his new mugshots?” I asked. Unfortunately, my guess was incorrect.
There he was–the man who played bass in Weezer during the Blue Album/Pinkerton era (Or the best Weezer era, as some or probably most people refer to) and the man who gave birth to his beloved Rentals while he was in Weezer–touring once again after releasing Lost In Alphaville, the first full-length album from the Rentals in 15 years.
The last time the Rentals were in Philadelphia was seven years ago at the TLA (Which Sharp described as a debacle full of shit-storm and by “shit-storm,” I mean a storm literally full of shit. It might have been a tornado, but let’s just say it wasn’t a pleasant day for the Rentals.) and to be quite honest, I had just come to America that year and there was absolutely no way for my foreign-self to be aware of the Rentals’ existence. Perhaps that worked out, since I didn’t know what to expect from a Rentals gig.
Seeing Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin open up the show struck me for several reasons–one of them being that I was about to see a band whom I spontaneously discovered on Playlist in eighth grade (I believe the first song I’ve ever heard from them was “Sink/Let It Sway”). It’s been a while since the last time they played an all-ages show in Philadelphia and they gave me weirdly nostalgic feelings (Perhaps from thinking about my innocent-self trying to discover new music).
For Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, fluidity seemed to be one of the many specialties. A concise set filled with juicy melodies and well driven rhythm section definitely added to their fluid quality, judging from the consistency and clarity of their sound and flow. Lead singer Phil Dickey and Jonathan James also proved to be reliable utility men–frequently swapping their roles–from strumming to drumming and vice versa.
Adding onto Dickey and James’ driving force, keyboardist Roni Dickey (Phil Dickey’s sister) and bassist Tom Hembree provided the warmth within the band’s sound. What makes their melodies so harmless yet effortlessly catchy is the way Roni Dickey’s notes (Embedded within the music for texture, which really stimulates my senses) and Will Knauer’s rich guitar licks complement each other, along with the rest of the band.
In the spot between Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and the Rentals there stood Mates of State, the Kansas-based duo consisting of lead singer Kori Gardner and her drumming husband, Jason Hammel.
I tried not to let the size of Mates of State fool me, but I succumbed to their massive live atmosphere in the end. Reinforcing Gardner’s infectiously melodic synthesizers were Hammel’s locked in grooves and impeccable vocal range. Such colorful instrumentation blending with Union Transfer’s colorful illumination turned every note into an ethereal burst of sound.
After playing a wide range of tunes from their catalog, Mates of State started playing the notes to a song that sounded quite familiar to everyone in the building. The duo, with their quirkiness and lighthearted intention for amusement, made Miley Cyrus’ infamous anthem “We Can’t Stop” less despicable–at least for the night.
When Matt Sharp and I were talking about the production of Lost In Alphaville, he did admit that he was “terrified of how large it sounded” (In a good way, I suppose) after Dave Sardy mixed the album. I thought–after that night–how did he feel after the first rehearsal with his new live band? After all, he did recruit an all-star group of musicians, consisting of his loyal companion Lauren Chipman, We Are Scientists’ Keith Murray, Shawn Glassford of Polyvinyl’s own STRFKR, Ozma’s Ryen Slegr, Nedelle Torrisi and Jared Shavelson.
As soon as the Rentals got on stage and opened the set with “Traces of Our Tears” from Lost In Alphaville, they turned Union Transfer into an amphitheater. Sporting his Manchester Orchestra shirt once again, Sharp jumped up and down just as his 1994-Weezer-self would. The entrance felt triumphant–so much so that it felt as if there were a nonexistent confetti explosion as the band burst into the first note.
As mentioned already, the new incarnation of the Rentals for live shows flaunts the names it offers. Given the impressive lineup, Sharp stated that the tour is this short only because of the limited availability of every member in the band (Murray and We Are Scientists actually embark on a tour with Surfer Blood tomorrow). Now the question is–how does band chemistry work for the Rentals?
Here is the tricky part: learning how to play a set of songs from all three studio albums with a different group of musicians (Except Slegr and Chipman) with such a tight schedule. These people, however, are experienced musicians after all. Glassford’s musical flexibility helped out because he knows how to work both bass guitars and synthesizers. On top of that, Murray and Slegr both play guitar and sing in their own bands, so male backup vocals? No problem. To fill in for additional synthesizers and Lucius’ charming vocals on Lost In Alphaville, Chipman (For viola duties also) and Torrisi fit right in with the band. On the drums, Shavelson with the aforementioned experience stands out with the power and precision in his playing. With that said, musicianship definitely plays a role, but it certainly isn’t the main factor of the Rentals’ chemistry. Perhaps it is the familial bond and environment that Sharp creates–if that is what he intends to do. Constantly walking over to the band members to embrace every one of them with his arms, Sharp made the band look as if they had been together for years (Or maybe I’m getting this feeling because I probably forgot how bands have fun when they play).
Essentially, the Rentals’ gave a special treat to both old-timers and newcomers. For the last encore song, the band brought out their classic “Friends of P.,” along with a funky Ghostbusters/M jam in the middle. Bustin’ with the Rentals certainly makes everyone feel good.
In all seriousness (Apologies for the terrible allusion), Sharp and the Rentals could not have made a comeback more special. Lost In Alphaville shows how much hidden potential there was in the songs from Songs About Time and how collaborating with Patrick Carney from the Black Keys and Lucius only helped the songs with exceeding Sharp’s own expectations. The same applies for his live band; he was quite wise as he knew (Maybe he didn’t) how Shavelson and Glassford would lock in as the rhythm section, how Torrisi and Chipman would complement each other, and how Murray and Slegr would work together to recreate the quirky melodies of the Rentals.
Before the show, I talked to Sharp about Lost In Alphaville, collaborating with Carney and Lucius, his impression (Probably outdated now) of Damon Albarn and his love for synthesizers. Check out the interview here:
Check out all the photos from this show on my Flickr page.
Also, make sure to check out Rebecca Seelig’s page. Thank you for filming and taking pictures!