No Context: The Teenagers Live at Mercury Lounge
The Teenagers play tonight, January 31, at the Hiro Ballroom and on Saturday, February 2 at Studio B.
photo by Ryan Dombal
The Teenagers, "Starlett Johansson" (MP3)
The Teenagers’ “Streets of Paris” is like an illiterate version of Pulp’s “Common People,” where all the class details are compressed into a couple lines about Nike caps and the chorus comes in under 30 seconds. “The streets of Paris,” they sing. “Man, it’s crazy.” They wrote a song called “Starlett Johansson,” a seventh-whiskey pickup attempt in which our narrator manages to get turned on by the fact that Johansson “whispers in horses’ ears.” That will do it for your band in the MySpace era, but to guarantee the eventual XL contract, they dug up “Homecoming,” a sub-Strokes ballad about fucking a girl who’s “a cheerleader,” “a virgin,” and “really tan.” The chorus is a charming Grease-style interplay in which one dude says “I fucked my American cunt” and then a blank-sounding girl agrees: “I loved my English romance.”
Actually, the band’s French, although they live in the UK. Though they say “cunt" on their record they also say, “You know we’re gonna make it!” on “Make it Happen” and “We’re teenagers, we don’t care!” on “Streets of Paris.” Not exactly the type of reserved, masculine sentiment that might allow you to crush tourists on holiday. Imagine, I guess, something like the Modern Lovers starring in University Sluts Of St. Petersburg 2.
Which, come to think of it, might not have been so different from the University Sluts of the Upper West Side tableau unfolding down the block last night at Vampire Weekend’s sold-out Bowery Ballroom victory lap. Since I’m not convinced that a band has ever formed without some expectation of eventual ejaculation, the Teenagers’ appeal to the “teenage girls of Europe and New York,” as they had it from the Mercury Lounge stage last night, didn’t seem particularly reprehensible. And although I don’t think they’re smart enough to be sending up much of anything, the fact that this so-called trio has, in addition to the three main guys, a female drummer and a female rhythm guitarist who plays half the riffs makes for a decent joke at their own expense.
They’re not teenagers, by the way. Bassist Michael Szpiner is 26. The three had adult jobs before doing a band. But they are a naifish act, in that they write their songs about the exact things that take place in their everyday lives. On “Love No,” a girlfriend tells one of them to stop spending so much time in front of his computer. He tells her he doesn’t love her anymore—making them the most debauched emo band of all time. It’s all girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, and girls they want for their next girlfriend. That your average teenager might merely allude to last night where the Teenagers will describe in detail what happened can be chalked up to the trio being a decade older and from the continent.
“You’re cooler than we are,” said their singer, Quentin Delafon, at one point. Their bassist, Dorian Dumont, got nervous and attempted to end the set a song early. As it turns out, their songs are good to the exact extent that Delafon can awkwardly dance to them. They’re giddy without meaning to be. “Feeling Better,” which rhymes “teenagers” and “feeling better” and talks about wanting to make the world a better place, is probably a sincere song, but that only occurred to me later. I was walking into the Bowery Ballroom Vampire Weekend circus and saw Dumont and Szpiner walking out. We passed each other on the stairs. When I got to the top, VW's Ezra Koenig had just finished asking, “Do you want to fuck?”