…is the only word that comes to mind to encapsulate Saturday night's triple bill of Ruby Vileos, Swearing at Motorists, and The Wrens at The Southgate House in Newport. This was my second trip to the Southgate (the previous being Yo La Tengo during their 2004 'Swing State Tour'), and it has already earned a place in my heart for serving up great bands in a great atmosphere. All three bands were of some interest, so here's the rundown.
Cincinnati locals, including ex-Ass Pony Bill Alletzhauser. They started off a little slow, I think—interesting but not especially overwhelming. Their last two songs in the set, however, were strong rockers that showed some real promise. They weren't flogging any merchandise at the show or I probably would've picked up a CD. I have downloaded a couple songs from their website, and I'll be keeping my eye out for more by them.
This Dayton duo was a revelation. They've apparently spent the last few years doing almost nonstop touring, so the infectious energy they brought to the stage was all the more impressive. They played incredibly tight, straight-up rock-n-roll, punctuated by frontman Dave Doughman's Phil Lynott-ish vocals and Pete Townsend-ish stage antics. Improbable as it might sound, the combination worked. On the strength of the set, I grabbed two of their CDs (Number Seven Uptown  and This Flag Signals Goodbye ), and while my first impression of them is favorable, the recordings are very different from the show I saw: slower; quieter; all-in-all, more in the introspective singer-songwriter vein than guitar-god idiom. If anything, this stylistic shape-shifting makes them even more intriguing to me (speaking of which, Doughman assembled an album worth of recordings he made of himself busking in a deserted U-Bahn station in Berlin. It is temporarily available to download for free at their label's website).
The first two acts would have been enough to feel reasonably satisfied by the show, but the real reason I drove two hours with the entire family in tow was to hear my fellow New Jerseyans, The Wrens. I was introduced to their music by a friend who gave me a copy of The Meadowlands (2003), and I'd been struck by the multi-layered intensity of songs like "She Sends Kisses" and "Everyone Chooses Sides," but that was really the extent of my knowledge (I had, in the weeks before the show, discovered some of their earlier recordings). In any case, I was optimistic about the show, but it exceeded any expectation I could possibly have entertained for it. For 90-odd minutes, The Wrens were beyond great, they were perfect, not necessarily in a technical sense, but in transporting the audience (well, transporting me, in any case) into their world of frustration and despair and triumph, leaving me, by the end, out of breath, emotionally exhausted, and absolutely elated. At one point in the show, Kevin Whelan cried out, "You've got to understand... we know we're never going to be rock stars, but this is the best feeling in the fucking world." I understood.