In a continuing series of fantastic concerts presented this semester, the Fanclub Collective, Cornell’s own indie rock promoters, presented another great show last Saturday at the J.A.M. building on North Campus. One of the most eclectic triple bills you could imagine, the evening paired local band The Teapot Dome Orchestra with techno-rapper Cex and the straightforward pop-rock of Brendan Benson and the Wellfed Boys. But rather than being a shambles of different musical styles, the bill gelled perfectly, for a fun night that will probably only be matched by the next Fanclub gig (see below for more on that).
Before the show, all the performers could be spotted hanging around behind J.A.M., chatting with anyone who walked up, or in Robert Purcell Community Center, where the bands were treated to a taste of Cornell dining pre-show. Everyone in the bands proved to be genuinely personable, whether they were chowing down on Mongolian barbeque and bubble tea (both of which the bands praised during their sets), or, as Cex did, calling Joe Easley of the Dismemberment Plan (who the Fanclub brought here in 2000) to get the inside scoop on Cornell.
After dinner, the night kicked off in earnest with The Teapot Dome Orchestra, who started playing to a near-empty room just five minutes after the doors opened, and quickly gathered a large audience that crowded the room. The band, featuring violin, cello, varied percussion (including some awe-inspiring bells playing), and laptop in addition to the traditional guitar/bass/drums rock setup, flirted with an eclectic mix of styles over the course of their set. At times sounding like the organic folk-pop of Jim O’Rourke, at others approaching Godspeed You Black Emperor!-style dynamic tension, they had a unique sound that quickly won over the audience.
Their covers of the Prince song “When U Were Mine” and Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers” (which incorporated a sample of “Amazing Grace” into the outro) were adopted in the band’s personal style, and fit in well with originals like “It All Collapsed” and “Purgatory,” which culminated in an extended, rocking climax.
Next up was Cex, who took the stage accompanied by just a laptop and a microphone, and proceeded to blow everyone away. Playing a variety of songs from all three of his albums (including Tall, Dark, and Handcuffed, his newest, which comes out soon but was available pre-release at the show), Cex strutted around the stage rapping over his funky, quirky, beat-heavy backdrops.
A charismatic performer, he had the whole audience at ease from the moment he took the stage with his laid back attitude, telling everyone to call him Ryan. His between-song banter was incredibly funny, and also gave some perspective on his songwriting process. He stressed how his music was an attempt to get out what he couldn’t express in words, and told anecdotes like the time he and his friends made a movie about a British boarding school (“that’s what British kids do, use slang and jerk each other off”).
Cex got the most audience activity of the night, encouraging dancing and using a lot of call-and-response. On one song, Cex spat out sexual innuendos disguised as bicycle-riding metaphors, and got the crowd shouting back on the anthemic chorus. On other tracks, he was content to simply stalk back and forth across the stage, dropping rapid-fire rhymes and taking occasional breaks to snarl for a picture (displaying his notorious gold front teeth) or to jump up on a chair. And when the chair he was standing on toppled over, he simply leapt off into the crowd without breaking his flow for even a syllable.
Cex’s running theme throughout the night was that we had to have a “thousand awesome things” happen during his set; and though by the end of the night Cex had only totaled up six, he must’ve been counting pretty conservatively — there probably were at least a thousand awesome things about his performance.
But the evening still wasn’t over; after a short break, Brendan Benson and his band, the Wellfed Boys, took the stage to an enthusiastic crowd (including some hardcore fans who apparently knew every word and sang along the whole time). The band churned out a high-energy set of straightforward, bouncy rock, barely pausing between songs to let the band catch a breath.
As a result, there was hardly any stage banter at all — in fact, during one of the infrequent breaks, Benson self-deprecatingly mocked his lack of stage presence — but the band’s breakneck pace just meant that they exuded a very different type of charisma than Cex. Their Big Star-style power pop was perfectly suited to getting a crowd moving, and it was hard not to be swept up in their sea of crunchy riffs and harmony vocals.
In an odd move that was nevertheless consistent with their fast-paced set, the band left the stage for all of ten seconds towards the end of their set, went back into the dressing room area, then returned for a three-song encore, complete with multiple false endings, like they were the Stones playing a packed arena. For the encore they took a fan request of “Pleasure Seeker” which Benson immediately leapt into without consulting his band, who took a few minutes more to remember how to play that one, leaving Benson solo for the first half of the song.
Benson’s set ended the night on a high note, and everyone leaving surely felt satisfied at having seen three very different acts rock in very different ways. And everyone who was there (as well as all those who weren’t but should have been) must be already excited for next week’s Fanclub show, featuring New York City bands Oneida and the Walkmen with local acts Red and The Atomic Forces, appearing next Saturday, 8 p.m. at J.A.M. For more on the Fanclub Collective and the great indie music they’ll be bringing to you later this semester, check out their website at www.rso.cornell.edu/fanclub to get a list of upcoming shows and join the listserv.
Archived article by Ed Howard