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Les Savy Fav with The Apes and Coldsides
Thursday, Dec. 6
Go! Room 4, Carrboro

The folks who like to say that rock is dead obviously don't make it to shows like this one. The opening band, The Apes, didn't even have an electric guitarist, but between the Hammond organ and the fuzz bass, they managed to conjure the raunchy attitude of The White Stripes or Verbena. It was head-banging music, and most of the packed house at Go! Room 4 was willing to bang along. The Apes' lead singer, Paul Weil, managed to channel a pretty convincing Mick Jagger--or at least the Mick who used to perform with his pout and his strut (the less said about Weil's hair and the moustache, the better). His crowd incitements were a good warm-up for the wild gesticulations to follow, courtesy of the headliners.Indie faves, art rockers Les Savy Fav (the name references a group of French artists called Les Fauves, or "the wild beasts," whose work is characterized by a rejection of form), are a rock band that rejects the usual hooks-and-chorus format for tension-manipulating music that teases--then pays off. Their soaring new album, Go Forth, could be compared to anyone from The Pixies to '80s New Wavers Big Country. Tim Harrington, the lead singer for this outfit, looks like a heavier Will Oldham, all tangled beard and wild hair. The hair was part of the performance; he sawed off big swatches of it with a pocketknife throughout the show. He also managed to chop off a wad from at least one audience member, and, later in the show, plastered the collected hairball to his own face, held on by sweat.

Harrington went on to deliver such witty, Malkmus-style lines as "I dreamed I was kidnapped/by a guy with a moustache/and a chick with an eyepatch" (from "Adopduction"), all the while writhing around the floor on his back or climbing on anything he could find. He spent a good deal of time in the audience, singing to individuals who mostly reacted with indulgent but strained smiles--part of the mystique in this sort of exhibition is not knowing what the guy might do next--and wrapping himself in the microphone cable a la Pipe-era Ron Liberti. After a while, the mania evolved seamlessly from a spectacle to an infectious groove, so much so that the band had a crowd of Chapel Hill hipsters unselfconsciously clapping along, which is no mean feat. This was plain-old, balls-out, good-natured fun.

Showmanship aside, it was the music that defined Les Savy Fav--driving, complicated guitar rock that made everyone pogo and sing along. The set consisted mostly of songs from their new album, proving the ever-renewable strength of a supposedly moribund milieu. The guitarist moved from Western-sounding riffs to feedback-driven asides with practiced alacrity, while the drummer and bassist laid down out thick, shifting patterns and melodic riffs. One of the last songs, "Bloom on Demand," turned into a sustained jam featuring members of The Apes, who took over while Harrington danced his way into the crowd, which by this time was right there with him, rocking along and pumping their fists. The chorus, "This giving in is wearing thin," seemed to resonate with the crowd; it's a defiant call to reject what fashion slaves might define as out of touch--allowing yourself to have a good time--but which true believers understand to be alive and well.

Rock is dead? Not from where I stand.

Rock Lotto III
Friday, Dec. 7
Go! Room 4, Carrboro

At just after 8:30 p.m., Hamsters on Fire on Ice and Allen (four adults in dark T-shirts imprinted with the word "ROBBLE") kicked off Rock Lotto III (and made their imprint on local musical history) with their repetitiously silly composition, "Dirge of the Hamburgler." The group--two men and two women--charmed the quickly growing audience with their enthusiastic delivery (and varying degrees of competence) throughout their set, which also included the brilliantly titled "The Plight of Mr. Senator T" and their last ditty, a funky groove that led into Irish folk-rap and ended as Zeppelin-inspired jam rock. The Rock Lotto concept is simple: 32 contestants are matched up at random into groups of four and are then each required to write a 13-minute set. Six weeks later, the "bands" play a show; the audience fills out ballots with tiny pencils and one band wins a wad of cash, $200 dollars. Band members can drop out but may not be replaced.

Rock Lotto is the adopted brainchild of Kerry Fitzgerald, an English teacher at Durham Technical Community College and drummer in The Holy Roman Empire. Fitzgerald stumbled onto Rock Lotto in 1997 while in grad school at James Madison University in Virginia, where JMU's Tim Gordon orchestrated the event to let people who were intimidated by the thought of getting on stage have the chance to rock out.

Last fall, Fitzgerald premiered Rock Lotto locally. Fitzgerald says that while some contestants "hope someone from Superchunk might see them and sign them to Merge Records," most participants understand the seriousness of the event.

"It's always kind of like with a wink and a grin," she says. "You can't really take it seriously."

As if to illustrate this point, Tofurkey, the second of Rock Lotto's eight bands, took the stage wearing intentionally bad tuxedos. Their competent '60s rock was a tiny bit underwhelming (even though the spectacle went on to include a band member donning a pointed black hood).

The fluid space-rock of Diagram, a guitar/drums/laptop trio outfitted in gym wear, was actually outright good without any of the "wink or grin," followed by Saturn IX, two guys in funny hats who played everything from lederhosen-folk to new wave and performed a bizarre number--a not-unhappy song about the woman in Texas who drowned her five children.

For Fear of Sounding Stupid took the stage with the singer screaming, "Is everybody out there ready to rock?" They were very R-O-C-K, very silly and having loads of fun.

At this point it was announced that Band No. 7 would not be performing--something about "someone being ill." On with the show.

The two-foot, irridescent dunce caps of the Dunce-Struments reflected the club lights in rainbow hues. The trio was delightfully awful on keyboards, drums and guitar. For their second number, the jaw harp served as a backdrop for a spoon solo by Dunce-Strument member Kate Melcher, who then sang a song informing any rabid, adult male Britney Spears fans that the plastic, un-ironic boytoy would be unlikely to fall for stalkers. It was quietly beautiful.

The night's last band, Permanent Waste Featuring Shitface, kicked out the jams with a sloppy guitar-drum assault. They certainly embodied the spirit of the event as much as anyone, trading on enthusiasm as the currency of musicality.

As the audience voted, organizer Fitzgerald broke down the drum kit. A Rock Lotto band guy in superhero glasses filed aimlessly through the thinning crowd. Final results: Third place: For Fear of Sounding Stupid. Second place: Hamsters on Fire on Ice and Allen.

And the fistful of dollars went to ... the Dunce-Struments.

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