Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
Modern BaseballPrevious Next
support Thin Lips + The Superweaks
author HES date 04/02/17 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN
When I first saw that Modern Baseball was booked at Vega, I thought "marvelous - the bigger venues are starting to open their eyes to the "indie-punk" scene!" but alas, the show seems to have been hit by quite a dark spell - making tonight less of the success it could have been. First off it is always harder to get people to watch a small, emotional band on a Saturday, when there are so many more party-related things to attend. But Modern Baseball’s entire European tour also took quite a hit as Brendan Lukens, one of the band’s two founding members, guitarist, lyricist and vocalist had to cancel his participation due to mental problems. There is no doubt, that Lukens makes up most of the band’s outwards face and general identity - so the decision for the rest of the band to continue on with the tour seemed mind boggling, and probably also had its effect on tonight’s ticket sales. However, I decided to give the show a chance regardless - as a kind of experiment to see how far the band could stretch without such a major player.
Thin Lips comes out of the seemingly thriving "City of Brotherly Love", Philadelphia, PA that in the past decade has given us bands The Wonder Years, Restorations, Beach Slang, The Holy Mess and Menzingers. This clearly ups the expectations to the female-fronted band, that sounds a lot like genre-darlings from Muncie Girls on record. However, vocalist Chrissy Tashjian quickly shows to be less frilly or edited live. In spite of her lower tones getting a bit lost in the mix, Tashjian shows off an impressive vocal strength on the crush notes-inspired chorus of "Not Losing Sleep" or the explosive "Yup". Guitarist Chris Diehm supports on vocals as well as just in creating an enthusiastic mood, as he sings along or jumps around during songs - the rest of the band however seems more timid. This means the left part of the stage inhabited by Diehm gets more for their dime in this first round. However, Thin Lips generally come off the stage having convinced more than one in the crowd to go home and check their latest record out.
Even though it would be easy to think that the name The Superweaks is intended as some kind of tip of the hat to the legendary Canadians of The Weakerthans - and it might be - the band has very little in common with their almost-namesakes; The band is nothing short of energetic as they mix heavy doses of 80’s riffage, Motion City Soundtrack-style synths and almost-too-catchy choruses. The latter is best showcased on songs like "Paralyzed", where it works, and "No Sorrow", where it blows into "schlager" territory. The band seems to try to encapsulate too many genres however, and particularly Chris Baglivio’s takes it into a very strained 80’s vocals (think Bon Jovi "Living On A Prayer"-era) place - where I am not sure I want to be. However, the general enthusiasm of guitarist/keyboardist Evan Bernard makes up for most of this in spirit and musically on the last track, that he performs instead of Baglivio. Generally meeting The Superweaks is a mixed pleasure, but somehow the nostalgy-provoking synths and general showmanship of the entire band turns the ambivalence into a pretty favourable outcome.
In 2016 Modern Baseball produced one of the best records in the forming (in lack of proper names) "indie-punk genre" called "Holy Ghost". The album tackled the fundamental expression of emotional frailty that has come to shape this particular lump of bands. So that Brendan Lukens has cancelled this tour and honestly confessed to having to deal with mental issues is not really a surprise. At the same time, the band’s way of tackling this also shows the thing that in my eyes makes Modern Baseball probably the most relatable band in town - but this makes no justifiable musical excuses for the band, as I’ll return to later.
Generally, the first part of the set with Jake Ewald on vocals is everything the show should be: Modern Baseball-style awkward but with songs so well-written that it still works, particularly the more pop-punk styled "Wedding Singer", "Mass" and "Note To Self". Although it’s hard to decode the audience’s reaction to the more experimental songs like "Everyday" or "Hiding" with its abstract electronic drum work. Ewald then proceeds into an acoustic set serving us the two more quiet songs "Cooke" and "Coals" off the band’s debut album "Sports". All songs up until now have been written by and are primarily sung by Ewald normally, but with bassist Ian Farmer generally stepping in on the most pivotal call-and-response parts that Lukens would normally sing. We also get a Weakerthans cover before the rest of the band joins for the third installment of the show: Brendan Lukens songs, without Brendan Lukens.
Started by "Jonas" from the crowd serving up a deficient rendition of the band’s "hit" "The Weekend", this second part makes up an extremely ambivalent experience: The band invites both Tashjian and Diehm from Thin Lips back to help out with vocals for respectively "Apple Cider I Don’t Mind" (Tashjian), "Just Another Face" (Tashjian) and "Rock Bottom" (Diehm) out of which, honestly, none of it works. A small ray of light is drummer Sean Huber brilliantly delivering "Your Graduation". Or actually: The whole thing is a small ray of light, seeing how Lukens band mates and friends decide to not replace Lukens, but rather celebrate him and his writings by performing them in what becomes a circus of people on stage. I haven’t smiled this much in what feels like weeks. For the encore, the most awkward man in music history Ian Farmer (just google him, you’ll see what I mean) brilliantly shines in a cover of The Killers’ "When You Were Young". But musically, it’s fair to say that this third part of the show is completely bust and bears the imprint of having to find a solution ad hoc. As much as I find pretty much everything this band does tonight so convincingly authentic and heart-warming, it makes no justifiable musical excuses for the band - making them end up on a grade that I normally only give bands I struggle to find relatable.