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Saturday, March 27, 2004
the Argument at the Met
Listening to:Axiom of Choice by Niya Yesh
Reading:still Speaker
Weather:51, rainy, foggy
Last night Liv and I went to the Argument's CD release party for Recess Serenade. We had a great time. The show was at the Met theater in downtown Morgantown. This was the first I'd been in the theater since the renovation. It's substantially complete, the seats are back in, etc. It's a great place to see a live performance. They've been showing movies there, too. I saw Paul, my old bandmate, working security. I also saw Mike, my board member. And several of the usual suspects, though the show was largely populated with highschool and college age kids.

The band's new tunes are much more concentrated pop efforts (though it's hard to compare after only hearing the songs once live, when I've heard those old tunes gazillions of times live, recorded live, and studio). They seem to have shifted their writing away from the more complex, epic kind of tunes, which packed a lot of musical ideas into each tune. It was almost like they've learned that you don't have to cram every cool new riff and change you can think of right now into the tune at hand. Rather, you can take each one and examine it separately in it's own tune. The outcome is a bouquet of distinct tunes instead of one exotic and complex flower of a song.

It reminds of a friend from my grade school days, when she said "I just realized that Juanita and Fatman in the Bathtub are the same song." That first batch of Argument tunes were beautiful babies that probably each took a long time to labor. They had such varied sections strung together that if you heard a snippet on the radio, and later heard another snippet of the same song later, you might have a Juanita/Fatman experience, not realizing they were the same song. Those songs were also often very arrangement-driven, with plenty of cool little riffs, backups, and other devices keeping them interesting on subsequent listenings.

The new tunes have a much more pop-radio quality about them - a 3 ot 5 second snippet taken from anywhere in the song would leave no question as to which song it is. These tunes likewise show them exploring how to push that hallmark of pop music - repetition - farther within each tune. I think the trick of successful pop music is to find that point of maximum repetition of hooky stuff, but weave in just enough contrast to keep it from being monotonous. And of course, keep it around 3 minutes or less. The new song Everyone's Selling Something is definitely an exercise in finding that balance point. I think you can see the beginnings of this focused pop-songwriting approach in Soaked, one of their first songs after that first batch of songs that got recorded onto several disks, consummated in Your New Favorite Band.

They've certainly retained, and probably enhanced, that youthful and playfully-immature flavor that the youngsters who populate their shows love, both in their new songs and in their live performance style. The occasional dirty word, songs about girlfriends and ex-girlfriends, the unexpected covers (last night we were treated to Sweet Caroline [yes, mom, Neil Diamond] and Here I Go Again by Whitesnake [I have the vinyl]). There's just something quietly funny about all these teenage girls joyfully singing along (every word) with Inflatable Amy. And these guys have also held on to those trademark Beatlesque subdominant minors and tight 4 part vocals with added 6ths, two of the things that make pop music great. The Beatles introduced borrowed chords to rock and pop, and that is definitely a trait well worth imitating.

But to step back a bit from the details, these guys are just great performers and players, and they dish out some of the best live 4 part vocals around. Matt is the real rockstar, from my perspective. He's a clean tasty guitarplayer, a real master of his sound. His SG had that tightly-concentrated humbucker sound that is deeply satisfying when played as well as Matt does. I missed the more complex and notey stuff from their early days (ala Ernestine Jackson), but was certainly not disappointed by his ever-solid rhythm playing and tasteful riffs and (few) leads. Chris is a great drummer, cute, looks like he's having fun, and delivers dead-on high back-up vocals. Brent is right there, the bassplayer that rarely steps out front in the mix, which is what makes him such a fine player. These two are the perfect rhythm section foundation for the cute and fun frontman Scott. Scott's vocals are the star of the show, and even when he can't quite reach the note, he's adorable. His keyboards were more integrated in to the overall sound this time, maybe partly a function of the Met mix, but the new tunes don't seem quite as piano-oriented as the old stuff. Scott is an effervescent young host, though he seemed somewhat more humble than I remember. Great writer, great frontman, keeps a good flow to the show.

The opening act was Bleu. And this really tells the tale on how the Argument is exploring the repetition factor. Very much a master of pushing the repetition just up to the point you want to yank it, this was a one-man guitar/singer show who made copious use of live loops. Fucking fantastic pipes on this guy. Bodacious mutton chops, too. This cat is a truly unusual, yet very accessible performer. He guitar was in some drop D open tuning (DADGAD maybe?) throughout, and he did the old Dolly Parton thing of just moving one or two chord forms up and down the neck. But the guitar is a prop for this cat, he starts the first loop of the show, in fact the first "note" of the show, with just beating quarter notes on the top of the guitar with his fists. Loop. Then add a bass riff. Loop. Then add a high riff, loop, add a third, loop. Then the main event, SING. Huge range to the high end, luscious tone. He reminded me of Jian from Moxy Fruvous, even looked a bit Persian. The songs were great, definitely not 3 chord fare, cool changes, interesting lyrics, hooky melodies, well-placed kicks, pleasant melodies, max repetition to make them memorable, but not to the point of tedium. He's had several songs in Hollywood movies, will probably have plenty more, very easy to listen to.

permalink posted by cat 8:28 AM

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the Argument at the Met