April 15, 2004

Fluffy, Innocent, and Eaten by Wolves

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Last Saturday, the band with the best name since The The took its place among the legions of artistic masterminds to peddle their guitars (and expensive shirts) at Risley’s Tammany Caf? The new band, This Sheep Those Sheep (Ba Ba Ba), took the stage, clearly having drunk heartily at the fount of bizarre set design and crazy musical accessories. And, yes, they were also clearly familiar with the fount of alcohol streaming out of guitarist Ben Kupstas’ tilted bottle of splinter-laden moonshine. Coming to stage like true rock stars, The Sheep began their set twenty minutes late, after quietly berating a patient crew of Sun regulars, post-non-un-rock gurus, and what, for lack of a better term, we shall merely call “harlots.” A slanted hat hid bassist Nate Brown’s radiant blue eyes as he crouched behind a strategically placed desk, lamp, and gold deer statue. Thea Brown, the viola player, had decked herself out as Neo-Robo-Techno Thea, keeping watch over an imposing steel box that emitted strange beats and rhythms throughout the night. In front of her lay a neon lightspeed Jesus-in-Vegas portrait. Kupstas and drummer Nick Jones were eyeing each other warily, prepared for any sudden sonic outburst.

Needless to say, it was the ideal setting for rocking the devil out of a subdued caf?full of cynical, fatigued residence-hall artists. But no one needed any espresso. Tonight, The Sheep were the highly addictive caffeine, and it was time to get inundated in boiling hot rock that smelled good and kept me up all night.

The Sheep set off with “Intro in A Minor,” a furious shimmer belied by soft drones that perfectly accompanied the light-rotations on the neon-Jesus. Nate Brown’s bass slowly stomped into Kupstas’ rugged and rattling strumming, and Jones gave the appearance of a cool, nihilistic punk even as he provided a stark beat that ran under Kupstas’ six-string bellow.

By “Hello Swallow,” Kupstas was sing-speaking charming, if always curious, lyrics that expressed his past of “wish[ing] to be an elf,” and the now-classic proverb, “All you need for love is one; all you need to come is one hand.” With a cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers” appropriately set to the Easter Eve concert, Nate picked up chimes, simultaneously understanding how essential his percussive role was and how fucking stupid he looked ringing little bells in front of all of us. Kupstas assiduously praised the name of Our Lord. And, while everyone laughed because Kupstas is the definition of a profligate heathen, he delivered the lines with a sincerity and urgency that would have been transcendent had the rude Risley audience not been weaned on Christ-mocking for years.

From this proselytizing emerged “Kevin Is In the Picture (In the Mirror),” a pacing Western soundtrack that scorched and throbbed with the clarity of a sun stuck in a shoegazer’s sunglasses. Jones’ drums merged into one loud pulse as Kupstas’ initially sparkling riff started to fragment. A great song deserves a great gimmick, and Kupstas quickly obliged with a megaphone that was, well, really, truly, awesomely loud. There was also a tender interpretation of Cher’s “Believe” that riled the crowd but quickly highlighted the original’s startling wit.

By the time the second set had begun, it was clear to opinionated audience member Stephanie Harmelin that “Nate and Ben look like brothers.” To be sure. but as Jones’ marching snare hit Kupstas’ trickling guitar, a swooping crescendo hit a screech. If this was indeed a family reunion, one must guess the grandparents have been given deafness as a welcome gift.

Heat and distortion crashed out of the guitar and bass, and it pierced brains like the audience was so many feet of tapestry. At this point, my notes turn into crude commentary and ribald insults unworthy of print. Needless to say, the spectacular conclusion of “Get Off the Disco Bus” with its chiming guitar, terrified keyboards, and xylophone, offered a clear imperative: “Get on the bus, the disco bus.” Frankly, that is not the polite way to ask.

Archived article by Alex Linhardt
Red Letter Daze Editor-in-Chief