2013.04.12 Lightouts at Union Hall, Brooklyn

In an age of big production shows, it’s nice to know that basement release parties for rock bands still exist. Granted, the Union Hall basement is one of the better basements in Brooklyn, but it retains the charm of shows that only include the people who know the value of going underground and listening to loud guitars in a confined space. Located in the heart of Park Slope, it booms and busts while the neighboring supermoms sleep in their queen-size hemp beds.

The somewhat timid Vini Reilly-type opener Adam Rubenstein kicked off the show with a sort of Athens/Chapel Hill sound, the college rock sound dipped in southern coating. Rubenstein plays a kind of bluesy pop with an upbeat melancholy. And on top of that, he will make you take electric ukulele seriously. His recent single, “Sunday Season,” doesn’t play to that quirky strength, but his other single, “I’ll Retrieve,” is much truer to his style. Worth a listen.

Bear Ceuse picked up the pace of the show with the verve of a band willing to do three-part harmonies over distortion. Their first song, “OK LA,” set a fierce pace, and gave me the impression that the quartet grew up listening to the Pixies. Mostly, their work is hardcore pop with a twang, relying on exact effort. Playing and singing with a very specific intent that works well, if not amazingly. I’ll single out their drummer, Danny Sher, who is much crisper than most drummers in his place.

Next, Unicycles Love You seemed to fight the audience a bit, the trio is a lot of Chicago by way of English style. In particular, they channel a strange sublimated Midwestern anger (à la Wayne Coyne) through British New Wave. They squeeze the life out of their distortion pedals, in a good way. My only qualm was that ULY has a hard time hitting the more exciting part of their British influences; peak moments of sadness or anger. They meander a bit more than they may intend to, at one point singing “It’s not a crime to be wasting time.” Maybe it isn’t.

Lightouts, self-described as “FuzzRock,” were the headliners, celebrating the release of their new album Want. The four gentlemen combine the rhythms and insistence of rockabilly with a plausible David Bowie impersonation. Lead singer Greg Nelson made a serious effort to emulate a flamingo for the whole set, often up on one leg with his bright pink shirt. And the band has the feeling of the elongated bird. Handsome, if a bit awkward.

The set alternated between tracks like “The Big Picture,” a mix of 80’s style and mid 90’s Britpop instrumentals, and the more laconic tracks from their new album. The shift in style was a bit jarring, though the instrumental work is serious and professional. Nelson sings “listen to the words I’m not saying,” and it comes across as a bit literal. Generally, the band’s lyrics are recursive, and it’s hard to invest in them.

Overall, I’d say Lightsout needs a more defined style, but I will commend them for finishing with a reasonable cover of EMF’s classic “Unbelievable,” which is difficult for any rock band to pull off.
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