LES Special: Two Sets of Siblings, Two Venues, Two Shows

June 29th, 2009

Two White Horses – Mercury Lounge – June 26, 2009

Two White HorsesFirst up was the exclamation point on a weeklong whirlwind by Sweden’s brother-sister pair Two White Horses—or maybe not an exclamation point, but a period. The duo, dressed entirely in white (I imagine their unmentionables were also of the white variety) played the early set Friday night at Mercury Lounge. The music and crowd were of the curious variety. Not quite candy pop, that sugary can’t-resist musical confection, Two White Horses, are the musical equivalent of two white Tic Tacs. Somewhere between the catchy ABBA and the anti-catchy Björk, the entire act seemed on the verge of being a Saturday Night Live sketch. The banter between songs—more like a pitter-patter—was as essential as the music.

Anecdotes would begin in perfect English with a tinge of an accent and then pause, or appear to pause but merely finish. Here, those in the audience would chortle in some sort of surreal laugh track, and I was never sure if they were playing it straight or not. The combination of brevity and wit (unintentional or not) carried over into the music. Here it was sibling chemistry at its best. The harmonies were perfect—not in a perfect-harmony kind of way, but in a brother-and-sister kind of way: years of love and hate and love and getting it and not getting it all rolled up in two striking voices. Roll this up with a keyboard, a guitar and a disassembled drum kit played with feet and hands while singing and playing guitar and you have an utterly surreal, highly entertaining, straight-from-Sweden lounge act. The self-described “massive hit” for them, “Good Times Are Gone Forever,” perfectly summed up the combination of humor, bleak worldview and hummable pop. Minty fresh breath.

The Slip – The Bowery Ballroom – June 26, 2009

The SlipA different sort of sibling pairing pulled the personal late slot with Andrew Barr (on drums) and Brad Barr (on guitar) raging The Bowery Ballroom with Marc Friedman rounding out the trio on bass. It’s hard for me to imagine living and working so closely with a brother for so long—the better part of a decade and a half—and still performing at such a high level. For a band that’s been trudging along for so long, the Slip has proved to be surprisingly dynamic, which was fully on display Friday night.

Hey, it’s a pump-your-fist rock show! It’s a stroke-your-soul-patch indie show! It’s a grease-your-hips funk-down! It’s a bob-your-head jazz recital! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the Slip! These guys have been playing so infrequently that it’s easy to forget how good they really are. Apparently, most people didn’t forget, as the crowd was raging from the get-go, like they’d been snakes patiently lying in the reeds just waiting for their prey to come close enough to get their jaws around. And a tasty meal they were. Andrew set the tone immediately on a brand new tune channeling equal parts Keith Moon and Tony Williams and putting on a full-fledged “you suck at drums and I don’t” display. Brad and Friedman weren’t too far behind, plugging the band through material old, new and really new. It was this latter category that really impressed, with the hot-off-the-presses songs combining their innate intra-band interplay and their new found song-oriented direction. The result was something that raged like it had been dredged from the Bermuda Quadrangle of the British Invasion: equal parts Beatles, Stones, the Who and Led Zeppelin. And you can dance to it. —A. Stein