Not only do sinister spinners steal their club gigs; they can actually get an audience to dance -- or at least move around. Looking out over their audiences from onstage, though, bands usually have to settle for ironic devil's-horn thrusts and faux headbanging, gimmicky gestures that reveal no real fan appreciation. Still, even these shallow moves beat the alternative -- a statue gallery in which scenesters live in fear of disturbing their meticulously mussed hairnests.
Perhaps the exception to the rule, Overstep inspires motion despite its lack of boogie grooves. This simply confirms that groups can spur onlookers without abandoning the jagged Kansas City sound. It also proves that a passionate and/or alcohol-addled fanbase can be more valuable than any electronically enhanced backdrop.
Other area acts have resorted to desperate measures. Some have figured out that gazers will move quickly in self defense: Pixel Panda's dual vocalists spook the herds by stepping offstage and pacing the floor like rabid rhinos. Such tactics don't always make friends -- the scattered masses often glower at the singers as if they're landlords who've evicted them without notice -- but they at least provide convincing evidence of life.
Using DJ tools (rhythmic momentum, a throbbing pulse) to kick-start stagnant hearts, the electroclash movement -- in which art-school types merge disco drums and booty-shaking bass with punk song structures -- has encouraged concert choreography, especially on the East Coast. Here, though, the beat-crazy Hot Children haven't been able to convince jaded listeners to exercise their atrophied asses.
When that fails, rubber snakes and cow costumes never hurt. With its gaudy, goofball antics and canned guitar-and-percussion rave-ups, the Ssion usually stirs up a frenzy. Those who subscribe to its party vibe spazz out at venues in which patrons more typically express enthusiasm by tapping their stylish shoes or moving their heads as if placing an auction bid.
Now, the Ssion isn't without its flaws. Its satire is so 1993, its slide shows are more boring than a distant relative's vacation shots, and its painful power ballad deserves a violent death. But it creates palpable excitement about live (well, kinda) music, and it leads cheers for every other outfit on the bills it plays.
On September 24 at the Bottleneck, the Ssion shook its pom-poms for some of the West Coast's leading electroclash attractions, all of which had their own ideas about how to force the action. Perhaps seeking to assure fans that no matter how dorkily they danced, they couldn't outgeek her moves, the Vanishing's singer executed an excruciating routine. She also doused the faithful with water, a curious choice at an indoor show in early fall. Maybe she was trying to spread the chills, in hopes that the shivering masses would get down for warmth.
After Numbers proved how infectious one-note keyboard leads can be, Erase Errata took over with mixed results. Flaunting futuristic funk, its rhythm section could produce twitches in a morgue. Its herky-jerky riffs loosened limbs like invisible puppet strings. However, singer Jenny Hoysten's unpleasantly erratic presence spoiled everything. Nothing kills a throbbing buzz quite like a red-hooded ringer for Saturday Night Live's Pat delivering disjointed stage banter that sounds like Rain Man reading a Larry King column.
That is, unless it's an overalls-clad jeter playing acoustic country guitar during a rap show. Such was the scene at Bubba Sparxxx's gig at the Beaumont Club on September 26, which provided another interesting mix of the traditional and spin-centric worlds. Dubiously, Sparxxx introduced this mystery guest (who seemed at most ten years older than the charismatic, country-raised MC) as his father. Then again, maybe they have 'em young out in the sticks.
Regardless, a DJ stole the show. Sparxxx's spinner Scientist cut records behind his back, while removing his shirt and, finally, with his hands on the floor and his feet on the wax. It was a reminder that the needle cuts both ways -- just as indie groups embrace DJ sounds, so do scratchers study classic-rock showmanship.
If all DJs were so skilled and compelling, it might be an ominous moment for rock survivors, an "oh, shit!" sign like The Onion's "dolphins evolve opposable thumbs" headline. But as long as the majority remain content with marrying thumping techno beats to Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper songs, like the floor-clearing DJ who followed Sparxxx's set, even the most dance-repellant rockers will always have a fighting chance.