I can’t stand when I go to see a band and the members play to themselves — that is, they have no regard for their audience. I’m a sucker for interaction, for some sort of acknowledgement from them that we, as an audience, exist. I want them to respond to the crowd’s energy and emotion and to feed off that emotion. I want the show to be distinct, not a carbon copy of every show on the tour so far. The ability to adapt to each city and each venue shows the members’ skill as entertainers.
With that criteria in mind, I’ll say this: Art Brut is one of the most entertaining bands I’ve seen.
I’ll be honest: After Bang Bang Rock and Roll, I thought Art Brut’s show might be filled with pretentiousness or sarcasm or negative attitudes from the band. The album’s honesty and simplicity keeps me guessing as to whether it’s sincere or not. When the band members began their set with “Enter Sandman,” I felt the sarcasm, but it was combined with a light-hearted silliness. After that ridiculous riff played over and over, Eddie Argos, the band’s oddly mustached singer, led Art Brut into “Formed a Band,” a fitting introduction.
I was thrilled when, after the first song, Argos asked the crowd if they had any questions. He reminded one audience member that “You rock!” isn’t a question, then lauded another for a request to “Bang Bang Rock and Roll.” He led the band into the song, telling us that the band didn’t have a set list but rather a checklist of songs — the majority of the debut, some B-sides, and some new material — that the band would get through at the request of the audience.
Argos bantered with the crowed all night, making jokes, filling us in on the inside story of a few of the songs, complimenting people on their T-shirts, making sure everyone was having as much fun as he was. The band’s rhythm section, made up of Chris Chinchilla and Ian Catskilkin on dueling guitars, battled against each other in a face-off of rock-star moves, and bassist Frederica Feedback stayed still and steady, and Mikey B (he eschews a full last name) remained standing behind his drum kit for the entire set. The band’s energy intensified as the set went on, and Argos’s interaction with the crowd never let up, causing him at one point to jump into the audience and bounce around with them, still singing, then run to the back of the room and jump up onto the bar, where he continued to bounce.
Art Brut kept its songs fresh by adapting them for the show. Argos altered the lyrics to keep them accurate: on “My Little Brother,” he updated his brother’s age. These are minor details, but it added to the sincerity of Argos’s lyrics, confirming that he is sharing with us personal anecdotes about things that matter to him. Toward the set’s end, the band played “Emily Kane.” At the point of the song when Argos usually tells us how long it’s been since he last saw Emily, the band stopped playing and Argos addressed the audience. He told us that he had recently spoken with her, that someone had played the song for her and that she contacted him. He said she spoke with him about her career and her student loans and her boyfriend. He said he realized he wasn’t in love with her anymore, but that he was in love with the idea of being fifteen and being in love. It was a poignant moment, the simplicity of the concept complementing Art Brut’s brand of perfectly basic songs.
The members finished their set with “Good Weekend,” then went into a tribute to themselves and their favorite Massachusetts bands, chanting, “Art Brut, Top of the Pops! Jonathan Richman, Top of the Pops! Modern Lovers, Top of the Pops! Pixies, Top of the Pops! Art Brut, Top of the Pops!” I was impressed that a band from another country would take the time to recognize and incorporate into its set a tribute to some of the great bands from the state it was playing in. At the set’s end, Argos challenged all of us to start our own bands, saying he’d be disappointed if we aren’t all in bands when they come back. It seemed as if he wanted us all to experience how much fun it can be to perform on stage.
I still can’t say if the band’s being sarcastic, genuine, simple or complex. I am convinced, though, that the members love playing music and love their audience. Everything they do may be an act, but their sincerity is undeniable, and they can’t hide the adoration they have for the people who come out to see them. It was hard not to feel special as Argos told us it was okay to download Art Brut’s record — the members are all independently wealthy, he said — just before walking off stage.