April 24, 2010
NEW HAVEN—By the time Fake Babies took the stage last Saturday night, Cafe Nine’s tight quarters had thankfully filled up. Just prior, the Breeders gurgled out the speakers, soundtracking a mellow scene in the red neon glow of the bar with eight or nine of us waiting for the place to get crowded.
But then the audience arrived almost on cue, the Beastie Boys ramped up the mood and the Fake Babies took the stage to that good will and promptly sliced the scene into pieces as the electro noize collective dug into their bag of processed vocals, bass distortion and chemical beats.
The band was an oddly appropriate opener, setting the stage with just the right amount of weirdness for an audience anticipating the psychedelic crunch due from the next two bands. At times, they resembled Ween in their more dissonant moments, just without all the irony and oddball genre referencing. Think a more caustic version of Brooklyn’s TV on the Radio.
The Fake Babies set quickly gave way to Imaad Wasif, and you could almost feel the audience’s collective sigh as, upon seeing the singer/guitarist take the stage, they settled into the comfort of knowing that psychedelic strains of folk rock were soon on the way.
Wasif’s set was an intense experience, alternating between acoustic and electric mysticism—moody explorations giving way to fierce guitar attacks ending in highly emotional release. As he and the band—bass and drums—set up, he was tucked into a waist-length plush coat, his impossibly skinny frame disappearing up into the jacket’s void. By the time he launched into the first tune the jacket was shed and he sprung to life, glaring and hopping, a beardless but way more badass Banhart.
Wasif frequently ventured off stage, clearly searching for connection with the audience, sometimes pressing his head against another’s or laying his feedbacking acoustic on the bar, jumping up on it and walking down performing an impromptu hands-laying. Some patrons welcomed it, others weren’t so accommodating. “There’s nothing more amazing,” he said, “than coming to a town where you know nobody and you come together through music.”
All evening, an Orange stack sat onstage, a constant reminder of headliners Dead Meadow and their smokey crunch. The band set up, disappeared out front for a quick prep and arrived back trailing a distinctive skunky odor and laid into a set chock full of their trademark languid, endless 70s riffage.
Singer/guitarist Jason Simon worked his Big Muff and reverb throughout, the notes hanging there with enough static electricity and friction to spark a fire, the air was humming.
Bassist Steve Kille made a couple of half-hearted attempts to fire up the smoke machine they brought, which, for a few seconds, made perfect atmospheric touch, but he never managed to keep it stoked beyond the first couple songs.
Throughout the set, Kille would pull from one of what looked like three or four jack and cokes he had lined up in front of him, each time offering a woozy toast with a sweep of his arm.
Admittedly this is the first time I’ve seen Dead Meadow, so I don’t know if they’re typically known to expand their songs into longer jams, but Simon’s droney riffs and slow builds that night could have benefitted mightily with a 15-minute space excursion or two.