Guided By Voices Proven Harmful to Children
The first thing anyone's ever going to notice about Smoosh is that they're little kids; the Seattle duo is made of of 13-year-old Asya, who plays keyboards and sings, and her 11-year-old sister Chloe, who plays drums and sometimes sings (they don't give their last name). So you'd think that Smoosh would be playing (and filling) venues like the Knitting Factory on pure cute appeal alone. But Smoosh isn't cute, exactly, or at least Smoosh isn't going for cute, and it's weirdly heartening to see two kids who could easily settle for cute perfecting their craft with total focus and seriousness, especially since they're working in indie-pop, a genre that rewards cuteness even in fully-grown men (see: Belle and Sebastian). But then, Smoosh is really only indie-pop by association; Asya has more than a little Avril in her voice, and it's easy to imagine the group signing to Arista and doing songs with Bow Wow, which would at least mean that Asya doesn't need to rap anymore (seriously). But instead of getting up on MTV Hits and playing to girls their own age, they're playing to a crowd full of balding indie dorks, and they're comfortable and professional enough to not let that bother them, though I really hope the schlubby dude in the front row singing along with every song was their dad.
The girls only allow themselves to smile between songs; Chloe scrunches her face up like a tanner, blonder version of Millie from Freaks and Geeks, and Asya stares at her keyboards with total concentration even when she's rapping. The girls' long flaxen horse-girl hair tends to remain totally motionless, and they play their florid piano lines and busy clicky drum parts completely without affect. That same focused, determined professionalism is all over their debut album She Like Electic; let's pray they never discover Pavement.
Smoosh found an interesting counterpoint in Dynasty, two grown-up multi-instrumentalists who play dressed-up gothy electro-AOR jams. The duo dresses like a non-New Yorker's idea of the "downtown aesthetic", whatever that means (though the past week has taught me that any concept of the downtown aesthetic would have to include $26 Misfits shirts and ugly-nasty capri jeans). The songs have a classic-rock sweep that transcends their dinky instrumentation to become fussy bloopy overblown showstoppers. The guy, Seth Misterka, wore a rumpled brown suit and sneakers, and the lady, Jennifer DeVeau, was barefoot under vast black curtains of hair and a huge witchy floor-length dress. Dynasty was at its best when Misterka was playing aqueous noir sax rather than scratchy tinny guitar, but he was strictly a sideman anyway. Deveau's sharp, theatrical voice was the whole show, and her best moments came when she broke character and let herself grin and cackle and bounce across the stage, more of a little kid than the little kids who would play after her. My friend Sofi called her a cross between Stevie Nicks and Karen O, and that seems about right.
The opening band, Narchitect (yes, Narchitect) was like a pedestrian Cursive, if you can imagine that. It's always so depressing to see yet another band passionlessly shitting out more rock music to a completely disinterested audience, playing it like they're operating cranes or cash registers. If it's some kind of triumph when a band escapes that status, and it is, then Smoosh and Dynasty deserve applause.