Swearing at Motorists – Rochester – The Bug Jar, NY – 2002-05-14

Swearing at Motorists
Where: Rochester – The Bug Jar, NY.

When: 2002-05-14

Well, now, I’ve only lived in Rochester (again) for a year, and I’ve been told that bands like Mogwai and Guided By Voices used to make the city a touring stop, but this is far and away the biggest indie rock show to hit Rochester in my memory. Normally we’re lucky to get just one touring band and one or two mediocre to poor local openers. This was three bands playing three very different styles of indie rock, and it made for one of the best shows I’ve seen in quite some time.

Without any promotion, the Bug Jar was almost completely packed, bringing in a nice mix of people. Rochester has the strangest indie kids – they feel like reformed goth or metal kids who just discovered indie rock a year ago and are trying to figure out how to change to fit into the new scene. Regardless, I wondered why I saw no fliers or heard commercials for the show. I guess the Bug Jar promoters knew they could fill the venue without a lick of promotion, because all three bands played to a packed room (and, surprisingly, no one commented about the furniture on the ceiling – a trademark of the Bug Jar).

I missed the first few songs of Swearing at Motorist’s set, and this was the band I knew the least about, but people have been raving about their new album, This Flag Signals Goodbye, so I was looking forward to checking them out. The duo of singer/guitarist and drummer flailed away in great big rock sound, and frontman Dave Doughman took full advantage of the lack of other musicians to leap and flail around the stage at will, shaking his mop of hair all over and flailing away on the low-tuned guitar. The band’s songs seemed an interesting mix of modern indie-rock and back-to-basics rock-n-roll, but the band looked straight out of a Tennessee bar, even to the point of the drummer wearing a cowboy hat. But they were all rock attitude, as Doughman kept shouting to the crowd to cheer for rock-n-roll. I wondered later if it was schtick, or perhaps if the band was just drunk. I suspect the latter.

Matt Pond PA were the best band of the night, and the crowd knew it. Impeccably tight, the band had the best sound of the night and sounded the most composed. It was their last night on the tour with the other two bands (Six Parts Seven picked it up the next night in Buffalo), and they seemed willing to go out in style. Even though their set wasn’t the most energetic – Matt Pond and the cellist both sat to perform, while the electric guitarist and bassist stood in the background – they played songs off their most recent two full-lengths with a sense of grace and beauty that’s otherwise only found in the studio. They even allowed the crowd to get them to play one more song, despite their protestations that they went over their time, and they sat back down for an incredible version of “The Hollows.” Amazing. Of the three, this is definitely the band you can’t miss.

764-Hero’s latest album, Nobody Knows This is Everywhere, sounded a little too slickly produced for me compared to their amazing Weekends of Sound, so I was wondering how they’d sound live. The last time I saw them predated Weekends. They showed that the intensity on Weekends could be applied to their newer material as without the slick studio production, all of the songs had a high-powered intensity that I enjoyed quite a bit. Surprisingly, more than half their set pulled from Weekends, and the crowd sang along as frontman John Atkins’ vocals went from sung to shouted, his face red as he put everything he had into the songs.

The new bassist and drummer Polly Johnson didn’t quite share in Atkins’ enthusiasm. For most of the set, Johnson just stared off into space like an automaton. Still, the music was tight if not varying too much. Even the slower songs seemed to be faster, giving all the tunes a very up-tempo, high-energy feel that left my friend saying they sounded like any of a million other rock bands. But Atkins’ helped the live set with his energetic yells, and the tight songs, while lacking polish, still sounded amazing.

764-Hero certainly aren’t the best live band you’ll see, but they had enough energy to finish out the night well, and when the drummer from Swearing at Motorists leaped onto the stage, took the mic, and went into the crowd to get crowd members to sing along the lyrics, it was a nice touch (which confirmed for me that SAM, if not drunk for their set, was later). It was an amazing set, one I wouldn’t suggest missing when they come through your neck of the woods.