Live: Casiotone Painfully Fiddles With His Equipment Alone
Last night's narrative begins on the Lower East Side where I order a vodka-soda, fork over $12 plus tip, and then go thirsty for the next 90 minutes because I fear the cost of bottled water is a tax lien. The evening ends in Bushwick at the Silent Barn — an open-area music space/communal living quarters where leftover tallboys are a couple bucks. The same place where if you ask for water, the nice kid behind the "bar" (a table with a mixing bowl marked "Tips") hands over a cup of ice, tells you the tap water is safe and that you can fill your cup in the kitchen, a room that's currently functioning as the stage. The Silent Barn rules.
Other Internet people will tell you about the first part of the evening, so let me tell you about the latter. The impetus for embarking on the outbound L and heading into Bushwick after the LES was a "surprise secret" show headlined by Owen Ashworth, a bear-like, bearded film-school dropout who tells stories with battery-operated keyboards under the rubric Casiotone For the Painfully Alone. On Sunday night, Ashworth opened for Xiu Xiu at the Bowery Ballroom and then had two nights off in New York before heading upstate to Albany. Casiotone For the Painfully Alone in town on tour with free evenings + Brooklyn's finest all-ages promoter (Todd P.) = "secret" show. When it's Tuesday and you don't have tickets for the Klaxons, this is awesome.
The back-story of Casiotone For the Painfully Alone is that Ashworth started writing songs because it was a cheaper means of storytelling than film. So it follows that his appeal on record is more emotional than musical, more scenic than sonic: he has this amazing knack for turning pangs of longing, loneliness, and frustration into self-contained sequences of drum-machine skittering and plastic-keyboard pitches — the kind of two-to-three-minute lo-fi soliloquies you need when you're young, hungover, and wondering if the second-hand-smoke smell on your coat is poetic or gross. "Young Shields," in particular is a secret anthem for empty-wallets, late risers, and second-hand shirts: "We drink too much and fuck too soon/Smoke cigarettes in rented rooms/We quit our jobs & shoot the moon/And cut our wrists & sleep 'til noon." With the right blood alcohol count, grumpiness, and moonlight, Owen Ashworth's songs can make existential malaise seem purposeful, noble even, a worthy lifestyle. Somebody's gotta tell those lies.
No false illusions last night. Bearded dude in a kitchen with keyboards was a bearded dude in a kitchen with keyboards. This bearded dudeness began with him emptying out a few suitcases — a veritable clown car of Casios — and setting up all this knobbed gear, and then being like, So I didn't make a plan, what do you want to hear? Somebody told him up front that he would save his cover of Paul Simon's "Graceland" for last. He concurred: that became the no-plan plan. Somebody else wanted to hear "Bobby Malone Moves Back Home," which is either a song about how failure's not shameful or Jena Malone's invisible brother. I'm pretty sure it's the former, and awesome, we all want to be convinced that fucking up is okay. Problem is, Ashworth wasn't very convincing. He actually failed at convincing us that failure is okay. After a $12 drink, I needed some lies.
Then he segued into "Streets of Philadelphia," which wasn't a failure at all and, in fact, would've been downright incredible if Ashworth wasn't fiddling with his equipment the whole time. I mean, dude basically sang at his keyboards, not at us, while fiddled with his many knobs. But his fiddling came off more like adjusting, so it kept feeling like this wasn't quite right, like we were waiting for him to get everything right, and all those soliloquies would be told perfectly once everything was right. But as he went through "Beeline" and "Jeanne, If You're Ever In Portland" and took more requests (people kept yelling for "Young Shields," but he didn't honor that request), he just kept fiddling. Perhaps all this fiddling is just what Ashworth does nervously when he's onstage alone, like chewing a hoodie string or scratching his ass. But after a while, it felt like watching an auto mechanic work. And nobody believes the auto mechanic's lies.