Holidays on Ice
Car Day is my favorite holiday. Some crabapples hate it, because you never know exactly what day Car Day will fall on, and it's always in the middle of winter, and they don't give you the day off work for it. But I love Car Day for its excitement and camaraderie. Will this year's celebration be held at the impound lot? Or on the roof of a parking garage? In a ditch?
And which of my friends and family members will share in the occasion with me? I won't find out until I place the first emergency phone call of Car Day. Who wants to cancel previous engagements, give me a lift, float me some cash, and poke around under the hood of a '96 Toyota Camry in the invigorating January breeze?
I found out this week. Car Day arrived, and I became utterly shameless at begging for favors. When it was over, I looked at the whole world through the prism of post-Car-Day-traumatic-stress: So what if Barack Obama is the man who can unify Americans and free the executive branch from the death grip of those doublespeaking oligarchs—he grew up in Hawaii and probably doesn't know jack about cold cranking amps.
I feel sure that the kids in Best Friends Forever, with their can-do Camp Fire Girls spirit, would show up to my frigid festival with craft cabin mittens and jumper cables. At the Turf Club last Wednesday night, IRL BFFs Jessica Seamans and Briana Smith sang duets that veered between squeaky naiveté and sneaky wit.
Smith, behind either Casio keyboard or guitar, performs with the exaggerated expressions and outsized gestures of your favorite babysitter channeling Mick Jagger while telling the night's last—and best—bedtime story. Seamans, her Seabreeze complexion framed by sleepy curls, lets her bass lines wander as her high voice warbles.
"Eisenhower is the father of the interstate highway system, and this song is just a way to pay a little tribute to him," they chirp in the world's tamest and most accurately named rock 'n' roll road song, "Eisenhower Is the Father of the Interstate Highway System." Its feeling of purity is undiminished by the ending, "I'd love just once to see you/I'd love just once to see you/I'd love just once to see you/In the nude!"
"I was in our kitchen this morning, and a mouse head popped out of the toaster!" Smith recounted to the audience. "I think we killed nine mice today." Do these Friends have a secret bloodthirsty side—did they get their merit badges in butchery at Camp Crystal Lake? Is that why their drummers keep disappearing?
My worries vanish as the band launches into its charming apparition-crush ditty, "Ghost Song." Smith brags about the benefits of dating the dead: "We don't have to wear protection, and I'm never late/But anyway he's probably shooting blanks/But if not, so what?/We'll have a half-ghost baby." The audience giggled and jiggled, and by the end of their set, I was ready to get out a safety pin, prick my index finger, and offer to be blood sisters with everyone on the dance floor.
The Revamps released their new album, Love to Lose, on a Friday night when the Hexagon Bar smelled like someone was simmering a pepperoni pizza stew in a crockpot made from unwashed gym socks.
Frontman Darren Harff has an able studio voice, stretching out, inflating, and then flattening his words for extra syllables of alt-country twang. "I make you an offer, one you can't deny/When every little cri-ime/Seems fine." But the catchy could-be-Jay Farrar-ness of the record wasn't always apparent onstage, where the trio's instruments and the vocals seemed to disagree on matters of key.
"We've got a few more songs to do, and then we gotta go—we've got to milk cows in the morning," Harff said, as if we didn't notice the Hex staff force-quitting the night by turning on all the lights. Still, the Revamps make my Car Day party list, because 1) "Little Crimes" would be a great highway song; and 2) drummer Ryan Anderson is a giant who could probably push my car to safety, assuming I could convince him to take a momentary break from beating his kit like he's pounding the bones of an Englishman into meal.
Does 20 below zero mean nothing if you're under 21? On Saturday night, I told the ghost of Jack London (we'd been hooking up since Best Friends Forever sold me on the idea of spectral companionship) that I was braving the elements to see the Debut. He shook his head in disbelief and told me I was nuts for risking exposure in such a harsh and unforgiving climate.
But when I arrived at the Varsity Theater, it was a hot furnace of 18+ flesh, where curtains of long college-girl hair couldn't quite hide the flash of silver flasks as they repaired the cruelty of kiddie cocktails.
The Debut named their record This Album Is About Cars, but it's confusingly void of seasonal classics like "Please Won't You Start?" and "Why Aren't You Where I Parked You?" The foursome of Madison natives have grounded their sound in a motorway-revving rhythm section, the straining throat muscles of Benjamin Gurstelle, and a willingness to play ball with background choruses of catchy "Whoa-ah whoa, whoa-ah whoa-ohs."
"Our first show in Minneapolis was a year ago, right across the street, at the Steak Knife," remembered Gurstelle. At the rate of a block per year, it's going to take them awhile to reach the First Avenue Mainroom. But the band seems confidant that the masculine handclaps, pulse-raising energy, and testosterone-releasing hooks on About Cars will get them there faster. When the Debut walked offstage, the crowd became a men's chorus of the chant "One more song," until it became obvious that the guys weren't coming back—possibly because they had just played their entire catalog.
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