Gram Rabbit Super Happy Fun Land Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008
Better Than: Nostalgia
Download: "American Hookers," for Gram Rabbit at their most direct, radio ready best
It’s been three days since I became aware of the existence of Gram Rabbit. In the convoluted way things tend to happen, this show came to my attention via Press freelancer William Michael Smith, who was emailed by a pal in the California band I See Hawks in L.A., who recently finished a new record - mixed by Gram Rabbit guitarist/studio mastermind Ethan Allen.
Gram Rabbit included, there were four bands on last night’s bill for the night, with doors at 8 p.m. If things move briskly – and they won’t – we’ll be home right around 2 a.m. The first band, locals Floppy and Awkward, play a set that is astonishing only because it lasts for over an hour. Not even Sprawl, whom Floppy and Awkward seem to be unsuccessfully emulating, would make that seem like a good idea, and they are (literally) run offstage by the sound man. While not floppy, their exit was sure as hell awkward.
Next up: Soft Cell/early Depeche Mode disciples Tense: one guy in tight black jeans with a black leather jacket and white wayfarers, accompanied by a second female vocalist wearing black wayfarers and the backing music provided by a laptop. Auspiciously enough, the Tense set took place on the floor, near the soundboard, and, while a rip off, was a well executed, energetic and entertaining rip off – at least until the vocalist degenerated into acting like a self important jackass.
"The feedback is not part of the set," he whined, glaring angrily toward the soundboard. Two songs later, he was openly confronting Gram Rabbit, who were in the process of setting up onstage – the band was due in Louisiana by the following afternoon, and the opening set had thrown off the entire night’s schedule – saying that their tuning was "kind of dick like," since Tense was still playing.
Gram Rabbit brought their professionalism with a tight, dance heavy and interesting set. Hailing from the high desert town of Joshua Tree, California, the four Rabbits were the aforementioned Allen on guitar and vocals, former Tears for Fears touring drummer Brian MacLeod on skins, and the nucleus of guitarist/vocalist/programming Todd Rutherford and Jesika von Rabbit on vocals, keys, guitar, bass and "sexy witchcraft."
Make no mistake: Gram Rabbit wants to be big, and they have the ears, chops and style to make it happen. Allen is a sonic virtuoso, Jesika von Rabbit sways like something that just emerged from an industrial cabaret, Rutherford is subtle and rock solid in all contributions and MacLeod is the hard hitting key that propels the whole endeavor. Their presence is captivating. Von Rabbit’s performance on songs like "The Rest of Us Sleep" is rock star caliber.
The band plays a blistering set and tears down fast before Austin based Death is Not a Joyride takes the stage to close out the night. Death is an entirely adequate band, but they’re following a tough act. Gram Rabbit is the face of 21st century glam; denser than Scissor Sisters and more fun than Ladytron. If everyone who heard Roxy Music got these sorts of ideas, the world would be a vastly better place.
Personal Bias: Look, man: I was promised a "bunny dancer." And even though she was sick, out of commission, and lobbying for "we play 7 or 8 songs and get the fuck out of Dodge," the fact that Gram Rabbit employs a "bunny dancer" is plenty enough reason for me to foster a personal bias. Mighty Mighty Bosstones? Don’t care for ‘em, but they had a dancer.
Random Detail: That Tense guy went so far as to be rude to my girlfriend, apparently because she failed to open the door for him as he made his way out immediately following his set. The only thing worse than watching someone trying to be Martin Gore is watching someone trying to be Martin Gore act like a 14-year-old dweeb with a wet diaper.
By the Way: Brian MacLeod wasn’t in a party down sort of mood. Why? He spent last night in Austin, partying with some friends from this band called the Bangles. – Chris Henderson