Since I’ve been hanging out on the scene, there have been a handful of bands that have completely charmed me with their live sound. The Can’t Kids, who play at Hunter-Gatherer tonight, are the most recent.
Rock bands usually reserve wit for veiled lyrics about veiled topics, but Can’t Kids can’t contain its sly tendencies. At Mardi Gras Columbia, in the midst of a cogent set, guitarist and singer Adam Cullum sang the first verse to “Cowboy Dan,” a Modest Mouse song. But the band wasn’t playing a cover; it was playing its own song.
Drummer Jessica Oliver, who usually harmonizes with Cullum, sang along as bassist Henry Thomas and cellist Amy Cuthbertson continued as planned, maintaining austerity. Order was restored by the second verse, but a growling undercurrent, a feeling of inevitable agitation remained in place throughout the set’s entirety. The music is like a once-ugly gash that has scarred beautifully, adding character.
And I can’t get enough. “Gimme A Grab,” the first song on the band’s “Shreadquarters Demo,” a download that has been in regular rotation at home, precisely captures The Can’t Kids: sing-song/chanting/ screeching guy-girl vocals, fuzzed-out guitar and bass, a swaying cello and a capricious presentation. A new favorite? For sure. (Listen at thecantkids. bandcamp.com)
Here are 10 other bands that have affected me similarly over the years.
1. From Safety to Where. I had recently moved back to Columbia in 2001 and I was at Hunter-Gatherer for dinner. My back was to where the trio — Eric Greenwood, Steven Walters and Jay Hubbell — were playing, but only for the first song. What was most scintillating about the band’s post-punk was the juxtaposition of the aggressive music and the band’s impeccable composure. I might have missed one FSTW show before it disbanded in 2005. It remains my all-time favorite Columbia band. Where are they now? Greenwood, who plays in Death Becomes Even the Maiden, is the only member still active. A FSTW reunion? I’ve been told on numerous occasions to let it go.
2. American Ninja. The performance at New Brookland Tavern was the band’s first and only show. The intermittent Kung Fu voiceovers spliced with instrumentals was like the rock equivalent of Wu-Tang Clan. Where are they now? Chris Powell, a guitarist in American Ninja, has played in several bands. He now fronts The Fishing Journal.
3. From the Land. FSTW’s Walters joined with Brett Lee and Dave Robbins to create an eruptive sound: strangled guitar chords, beautifully rugged bass notes and muscular drumming. The instrumental post-punk was so potent, the transitions so crisp. I’d like to have a copy of whatever was recorded. Where are they now? Not playing together anytime soon.
4. The Taxichaps. The band that begat The Heist and The Accomplice. I felt there was unique talent on the stage. The show at NBT was also memorable because it was the night before the January 2004 ice storm and two bands on tour — the Close and Bishop Allen — crashed at the house I shared with Jill Armbruster and Debbie Jones. (Ah, the days of crashing bands.) Where are they now? Have you heard of Toro Y Moi, Washed Out, Cameron Gardner Trio, Dylan & Dane?
5. Baumer. The electro-pop band made people do more than wiggle at shows; they made people dance. And they left us with this indelible description of love: “It doesn’t have to be perfect like a movie scene / Love is almost always accidental.” Where are they now? Various careers. Guitarist Kenny McWilliams records music at Archer Avenue Studio.
6. Sobriquet. The short-lived mathy, post-everything experimental band featuring members of Rockefeller Horsecollar, Newgenics and Marion, shredded its way to being the closest thing this city has had to a so-called super group. Where are they now? Only Thomas Crouch, who fronts The Mercy Shot, is performing regularly. His visual art career is on the rise.
7. The Mobros. The first time I heard Kelly Morris give phrases and notes a guttural thrust in 2010, I knew. Where are they now? They just headlined a stage at St. Pat’s in Five Points, and the brothers, who mix Latin, blues, funk and soul rhythms, will play at the Township Auditorium’s Loading Dock Live series April 10.
8. Guyana Punch Line: In Clemson, at a late ’90s WSBF-FM 88.1 show at some dance club where the radio-station kids didn’t hang out, this Columbia band pummeled the audience. We were captivated by Chris Bickel’s vein-popping ferocity. I thought the dude was going to combust. Where are they now?: Kevin Byrd, a guitarist, stars in “T is for Termite,” Steve Daniels’ entry in The Indie Grits Film Festival, and Bickel is producing and acting in “Plan 9 From Outer Space” at Tapp’s Arts Center this weekend.
9. The Movement. Before the full band and national tours, Jordan Miller and Josh Swain, then also known, respectively, as Jwadi Jwad the Wordsmither and Captain Hook, were just two guys playing guitars backed by a drum machine. The band was more hip-hop than blue-eyed reggae. Where are they now? Only Miller remains. The band headlined a stage at St. Pat’s. The song “No Wood” would be included if I ever made a Columbia-centric mixtape.
10. $10 Parachute. Willie Niesler, who fronted $ 10 Parachute, had a big voice and he exhibited such magnificent control of that robust instrument. Where are they now? I wish I could say.
Others with instantaneous love: Orgone Accumulator, Love Apple, ...for science!, basically all of the Arnold Taylor Situation shows, Chemical Peel, Woodwork Roadshow, Hot Lava Monster, Perfect Sleeper, Vinyl Are My Pants, Suck, Captain Easy, Beat Junction Project, Justin Smith & The Folk Hop Band, The Lovely Few, The Restoration, The Rachel Nevadas, Bear Romantic, Venice is Sinking — the list could go on.