Friday, December 18, 2009

High-school sweetheart: The For Carnation live

Last night I saw The For Carnation play in Brooklyn. Here, via the Volume, is a review of the concert. Showgoing-wise, it's been an almost unbelievably nostalgic stretch. The Jesus Lizard in November, Jawbox last week and now this.

Like many a music nerd coming of age in the mid-'90s, I harbored an intense obsession for Slint. But that band was long gone by the time I got into them, so it was only logical that I would seek out all the ex-members' then-current projects, including Dave Pajo's pretty, austere Aerial M, and Ethan Buckler's absurd yet hilarious King Kong. By far the most compelling of all these offshoots, though, was The For Carnation, led by Slint guitarist and sometime vocalist Brian McMahan. The band's two EPs, Fight Songs ('95) and Marshmallows ('96) struck me at the time as the next best thing to Slint, removing most of the heaviness and dissonance from that band's equation but retaining all its disarming tenderness and sublimated horror. (I still vividly remember my two favorite TFC tracks: Fight Songs' free-form ballad "Grace Beneath the Pines"--"...with crackheads and assassins and burn victims and millionaires' sons"--and Marshmallows' creepy dirge "Salo"--"She kicks but they hold her legs.")

The For Carnation's activity since then has been really sporadic. I did see them play once at Mercury Lounge in NYC many years ago. Not sure when it was, but I'm guessing it was about 2000, since they performed some tracks from their great self-titled LP, which came out that year. As I recall, there was absolutely no one at that show, maybe like ten people, and last night's attendance wasn't much better. As I mention in my review, it always sort of shocks me how little attention people pay this band in light of the worshipful aura that surrounds Slint to this day (speaking of which, I can't wait to read Scott Tennent's 33 1/3 book on Spiderland). Then again, TFC isn't exactly pounding the pavement. I could very well be wrong, but I don't think they've toured since that last time I caught them. Anyway, as you might guess if you've heard the records, they're unflaggingly subdued live, and things did get a little snoozy from time to time last night. But overall I still really get into McMahan's shadowy talk-singing and the band's throbbing, soporific grooves. Some offbeat covers (Randy Travis, Michelle Branch and--I think--a song by the Impressions) livened things up, and overall it was a nice, cozy show.

It's kind of cool seeing a band and having no idea whether you'll ever get the chance to see them again. Music (at least the practices of making records and touring) seems to be a really part-time thing for Brian McMahan these days. I heard some talk about Slint possibily getting together to record again, but then they made a big production of selling their gear on eBay. To borrow a hilarious line from A Serious Man, which I saw the other day and loved, the best course of action for a McMahan fan seems to be: "Accept the mystery."


P.S. My 2009 top ten list can be viewed over at Time Out New York, along with my colleagues' selections. "Dear Coach's Corner" forever...

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