Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Special Patrol Group at Arlene Grocery, NYC 2/27/09

The karaoke girl who was on before Special Patrol Group left a long table full of computer gear onstage, sauntering off to the bar to gab with her sorority sisters while the band waited patiently for her to get it out of the way.  Since the band employs a lot of background vocals, meaning mics for pretty much everybody, this only made it harder for the sound guy (resulting in blasts of feedback throughout the show – he looked like he was working hard, but what is it about this place? And they had Crystal Meth Girl on door duty again). To their credit, the band rose above the dodgy sonics and delivered a tight, intriguing set. There aren’t many groups in New York this good.


With guitar, keys, rhythm section and plenty of harmonies, they mixed material from their cd The Very Provocative Special Patrol Group along with some newer songs. Their lyrics are clever, allusive and often snide. With a cinematic feel, they draw the listener in to search for the culprits hiding amongst the verbal shrubbery. Their song structures are counterintuitive, surprising, bounding all over the place with tricky time changes, turning on a dime when least expected. A newcomer to their music would probably assume they’re British: their sound mostly closely resembles Blur at their mid-90s Parklife peak, or maybe the Larch, with echoes of classic Squeeze and Costello back there in the rearview mirror. The musicians all seemed in high spirits, the bassist taking a smoothly aggressive solo during the inscrutable sex song Battery in Your Pocket, the keyboardist playfully adding strange and amusing vintage 70s synth colors much as Pulp’s Candida Doyle would do.


While songwriter/guitarist Matt DeMella took the majority of the vocal leads and didn’t embarrass himself, the star of the show was singer Katie Schmidt, projecting an effortless, somewhat dismissive charisma whether she was going down into the lower registers, all dark and smoky, or leaping to the rafters with the same kind of effortlessness as Sonya Madan of Echobelly. Working her vocals into more of the songs – especially the understatedly caustic Late September, a slacker parable – was a smart move, and the crowd responded warmly. She also dazzled on a more recent song, the pounding, garage-inflected Only an Oasis, a sardonic reflection on a Connecticut childhood, before passing the baton to DeMello. They closed on a high note with another new one, August, a stomping pop song for Schmidt to go sailing over, its fragmentary lyrics clearly some kind of accusation: “August and still unaware…always there around your eyes…packed into lies.” Nice to see a good crowd come out for a good band on a depression-era Friday night. Watch this space for upcoming shows. 

March 2, 2009 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , ,

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