They're not the teenagers you see on TV. Their hair is dyed pink or clumped together in dreds or tied loosely in shaggy little pigtails. They hug each other and exchange goofy, secret handshakes. About half of them wear glasses. Many sport hoodies. Others wear both skirts and pants. They smile and laugh and occasionally wrestle each other to the ground. They have the world's narrowest hips, the world's worst body odor. It's poignant to consider that we once smelled as they smell now. This is what we're thinking as they encircle us. My friend and I whisper back and forth, daring one another to ask how old they think we are. Neither of us has the guts. We know we seem ancient, and we're not even thirty.
A few of these teens will write about the night in online journals, which we later end up reading -- just because we can. They have a need to analyze Trix commercials, and they believe that their classmates are copying their wardrobe ideas. Reading all of this feels like prying, but it's not. It's just the Internet. It's just what Google turns up when you search for local art-rock protégé Ashley Miller.
Miller is only a few years older than his fans are. He's not performing alone, as he does much of the year at downtown art openings and hole-in-the-wall bars. Instead, he takes the stage with Pewep in the Formats, the members of which have been scattered across the country by a pesky relocation program called "college." But like we said, it's winter break. Miller runs around in a long, flowy skirt, intently focused on testing equipment. Then he vanishes, and the really little ones up near the stage are instructed to sit cross-legged with their hands in their laps.
When the four lithe musicians finally come out to perform, three of them are dressed in white blouses and matching white pants. The other guy wears lederhosen. Miller bounces around, his scratchy, excitable voice ricocheting off Matt Greenblatt's smooth, choirboy bow-bow utterances. Glam rocker Paul Brennan, whose layered brown hair flops around his face, looks so happy he could burst, which is probably because he plays the maracas. They look and sound like a strange, magical barbershop quartet set to video-game music. These songs have no melodies; they're fast, then slow, and they start and stop over and over again. Every time the pace changes, it's like the video-game player has moved on to the next level.
Miller sings fast -- we figure that's why we can't tell what all the songs are about. Later, studying the liner notes for the band's new two-disc set, The White Waterfall of Oblivion, we realize that even if we'd been able to hear all the lyrics, we wouldn't have entirely understood what these guys were trying to say about their fucking rummy team, what the communists ever did to frustrate them or precisely what a hot tub just for Pewep time is.
Miller, Greenblatt and Brennan dance and clap in unison, clapping being a major component of their band's percussion section. When these guys are onstage, everyone in the audience is transported to a place that feels like a set for a wonderful, nonsensical cartoon. Garrett Peek, the one in lederhosen, stays behind his keyboards.