Junior Boys and Max Tundra
On a night when they faced serious competition (rival performances by Franz Ferdinand at one venue, The Kills at another, and the recently incandescent Denver Nuggets playing their second playoff match), Junior Boys and Max Tundra drew a healthy crowd to The Bluebird Theater this past Wednesday night.
As for the audience itself, it was easy to see who had assembled for which band: the more ambitiously attired and self-unconscious convened on behalf of the opener; the more vanilla, blog-aware sect and a stunningly large assemblage of nattily attired gay men were on hand for the headlining Ontarians.
Ben Jacobs began the international revue by assuming his Max Tundra alias. To be able to pair the sight of Jacobs–his short frame, protruding belly, and receded hairline–wildly animating the Max Tundra soundtrack is at once discombobulating and entirely sensical. Only from the Allenesque nest of implicit Jewish neuroses could spring forth this twitchy, jubilant, self-assured symphony.
In person, Jacobs preserves the sanctity of his music by virtue of his childlike, wholehearted enthusiasm, preventing the proceedings from ever smacking of the self-indulgence his three LPs can sometimes fall prey to. Instead, Jacobs cavorted and contorted his way through a set that featured a vagabond’s army of toy instruments and novelty sounds to the glee of some and the impatience of others.
Perhaps most striking in the transition between acts was the sheer polarity of the two bands: Max Tundra on the one hand, with his frenzied, orchestrated musical meltdowns, and Junior Boys on the other, their music cooly calculated, a model of restraint. Indeed, if there is a fault to Junior Boys’ stage presence it is that it all seems a little too effortless, an easy pitfall for a band flanked by sequencers and synthesizers.
Perhaps to combat this in part, the Boys expand by 50% for their live shows with the welcomed addition of a live drummer who suffuses an organic rush over the pre-programmed beats and melodies. This effect serves them well and works to minimize the damage wrought by Matt Didemus’ total nonchalance and apparent disinterest in performing in front of living, breathing people.
Both of the other members do their best to counterbalance the too-cool ‘tude. Singer Jeremy Greenspan has a naturally fluid, malleable voice which he uses to float over thrumming synth basslines. While he is prone to the occasional drawling vocal curlicue, his sincerity and skill demand center stage. Drummer Dave Foster helps to push songs over the top: his intensification toward a four on the floor disco beat on the superlative “Work” was a scene-stealing moment and one of the most visceral thrills of the evening.
Indeed, the energy on “Work,” from their new release Begone Dull Care, was evidently contagious, as it featured one of Greenspan’s most shining moments. Hearing him sing “so work it, baby, work it” felt sleazy and sultry all at once, especially as the high-hats loosened up and the effort kicked into that Giorgio Moroder high gear. Other especially high points included outstanding renditions of “Parallel Lines,” the opening track from their latest LP, and “Birthday,” their old closer and the clear crowd favorite from Last Exit.
In the end, both camps who turned out were treated to an enjoyable, if not unforgettable, set by two very distinct acts.