Tuesday night, despite Beth being just 48 hours removed from New York, we decided to go see a rock show. Bettie Serveert, came to town apparently for the first time in 8 years. Their first record, Palomine, is ten years old, but has remained in my regular rotation off and on for that entire decade. They’ve released at 4 or 5 full length records since then, but we’ve only heard the first two.
In most cases like this, I approach the show with trepidation, or decide not to go at all. I have this romanticised vision of a band that I developed long ago, and in nearly every case, the performance simply cannot match my hopes. And let me tell you, arriving at the show didn’t really help to soothe any of those fears. Upon arrival, there’s a good, but not great solo performer singing with an acoustic guitar on stage. There are only about 30 people milling around, with very few of them in the under 28 demographic. Very few “in the know” college kids anywhere, meaning that the recent records have gone completely over the heads of the indie rock crowd. To top it off, Beetle Bob is rocking to the guy with the guitar. Ugh.
Anyway, Beth and I sat down, and the place slowly started filling up. G showed up, and we talked with him for a while as the acoustic guy played perfect background music for conversation. His brother said hello, and went back upstairs to watch the end of Game 6 of the NLCS. It was from him that we learned about the blown game. You can try and convince yourself otherwise, but I think there is a curse.
So, before Bettie takes the stage, there are probably 100 – 150 people in the room. Most of whom could be labled “music geek” types as G put it. That’s a far more comforting demographic at least, but the crowd is still pretty old. Beetle Bob unfortunately doesn’t leave, but is joined by a couple of other interesting characters. One guy looking much like Matt Dillon’s character in “Singles”, but aged another 5 years and sporting a horrible neck beard. He was really into the show, and seemed to be crooning to Beetle Bob at points during the show.
Then there’s another guy at the side of the stage wearing leather pants and an Estrus Records t-shirt, pushing 50 with the face of a younger Joe Cocker, and the build and snakey dance of a young Axl Rose. Axl Joe as I dubbed him was completely hammered before the show even started, and was a nice comic sidelight through about half the show before he disappeared. At one point, he passed out on the bass players’ monitor, with his head to the speaker and a cigarette burning.
So, the show. What is Bettie Serveert going to do? Imagine our shock when the first chords played are the title track from their first record, Palomine. And they rocked it. No lackluster, OK, thanks for coming, here’s one for the old people. They wanted to play it, and they drew everybody into the show with one fell swoop. Carol Van Dijk’s voice was awesome, with every bit of the depth you’ve ever heard on those records. Lead guitarist, Peter Visser, pulled off every one of the songs with energy and passion. The sound was clean and the band was tight. No pretension, no world weary looks or banter, just 4 people on stage who looked like they were having a blast getting to play rock songs to a hundred or so people on a Tuesday night in the midwest. The drummer was the best, apparently being a new addition to the band, this was his first ever trip to America, and he had huge grin the entire night.
They played 3 more songs from Palomine during the course of the night. Kid’s Alright, Tom Boy, and Leg. Leg on the album is the opener that builds and gets quiet, and builds again. I love that song, and never thought I’d hear it live. Well, I got my wish and then some, because it was a barn burner to finish off the set.
The old pieces were beautifully mixed in with some incredibly mezmerizing newer tracks that I had no trouble at all getting into. One song, Given, was a great wandering ethereal piece, and another, White Dogs had this awesome Rolling Stones/Velvet Underground rolling bluesy swagger that had an awesome vocal key change in the chorus. Good, good stuff.
Coming out of Tom Boy, they seamlessly blended into a Liz Phair cover using a quick quote from Divorce Song to introduce a full cover of another of the Exile in Guyville songs, (Gunshy?) The cover was unbelievable because Carol has so much depth to her voice to pull off early Liz Phair effortlessly. Palomine and Exile in Guyville, released the same year with women lead singers pulling off rock songs without stooping to “Lilith Fair” folky schmaltz. It’s interesting to consider the huge disparity between the career arcs and artistic direction of Liz Phair and Bettie Serveert isn’t it.
The encore was pretty good, with a nice VU cover of What Goes On to close it out. Frankly though, their own White Dogs was a better version of this song. But considering that they apparently did an entire album of VU covers at one point, I suppose pulling out the VU cover was a way to appease the fans from even that period.
I think that’s the whole thing that I was left with at the end of the show. The band was so seemingly generous to it’s fans, giving all of their songs over a 10 year period equal billing and effort. Nobody does that. I recall an interview with Mac Maclaughlin of Superchunk where he said that they didn’t play Slack Mot*****er or Cast Iron anymore because they were 2 of the 10 songs that they knew early in their career, and they just got sick of playing them every night for 3 years.
It was the first time in a long while that I saw a show where the performers really seemed to be willing to play with their hearts on their sleeves. Maybe it’s the fact that Carol’s voice is just effortlessly full of emotion, maybe it’s all the experience, maybe it’s just a band with great songs. But considering that recently we saw the New Pornographers play a competant, but road weary show, and Yo La Tengo put on the most lifeless performance you could imagine, Bettie Serveert shone like the sun on one of those clear, crisp fall days. I left the show feeling old but still young and completely energized. It seemed like Beth and I kinda wandered for a while getting home, reminding of the days when a show like this would have put me in the mindset of finding an after bar party at somebody’s off campus house.
So if Bettie Serveert makes a stop in your town, go see ’em. You’ll be glad you did. Oh, and be sure to pick up the self-made live CD they’re selling after the show. It’s really good.