“Act your age” is generally a reprimand from a frustrated mother or an embarrassed friend, a basic reminder that, hey, you’re in public and should probably act as such. This past Friday night, though, at Nashville’s gritty hole-in-the-wall The End, it was the undeniable youthfulness and interminable energy of the Smith Westerns and openers Yuck that not only made for one hell of a show, but served as a fresh reminder of what a pure, passionate performance free of commercial influence and motivations looks like.
The evening began with local outfit Big Surr, whose brief set was characterized by the inescapable lo-fi, washed out, garage jams that have clogged the blogosphere for the past year. That being said, they did it well. With a regimen of dedicated friends/fans bouncing around to explosive, energetic songs such as “Alright” and “Attitude”, the collective coaxed even the most reluctant members of the crowd into tapping their toes and bobbing up and down. Topping off their set with an immensely enjoyable, brash track “Gone”, Big Surr’s catchy melodies and sugary vocals succeeded in not only moving most of their cassette tapes, but in proving once more that Nashville has way more to offer than acoustic singer/songwriters and honky-tonk bars.
The UK’s Yuck took the stage next and upped the ante on the contagious energy. Although the lead singer Daniel Blumberg could barely string together coherent sentences (much to the entertainment of both the audience and his fellow bandmates), once the music started, everything was clean and cognizant. The haze and distortion of their earlier recordings translated incredibly well to the stage, notably during tracks such as closer “Rubber” and “Holing Out”. The band exuded enthusiasm and, through their constant movement around the tiny stage and complete lack of any attempt to pretend they weren’t immensely enjoying themselves, turned a potentially shoegazey set into a dance party. The highlight of their show was after a minute long meandering interlude about how the next song “is a B-side, but we still play it, and you still know it,” the launch into crowd-favorite “Coconut Bible”. The vocal performance was spot on, the instrumentation tested the volume threshold of the venue, and it couldn’t have been more fun. Yuck’s playful interaction with the crowd and relentless excitement resulted in a phenomenal, almost show stealing set that ended far too soon.
By the time Smith Westerns played, the crowd had spilled outside into the courtyard, having vastly exceeded the venue’s small pit. The air reeked of PBR, but its buzz had little to do with alcohol. The crowd grew more and more anxious, awaiting the Smith Westerns’ irresistible melodic brand of garage pop. Cullen Omori and company nonchalantly took to the stage and began their set with a lush, riff-driven track off of their new album, “Still New”. Soaring vocals alongside tight, clean instrumentation – it sounded just like the record. This trend continued with a, as Omori called it, “hi-fi version of a lo-fi song”, old favorite “Dreams”, and dance jam “Imagine, Pt. 3”. The performance was impeccable, almost to the point that the band seemed a little removed from the crowd. Incessant acoustic adjustments punctuated nearly every break between songs and Omori wasn’t too social, other than a plea for the crowd to buy merchandise after the show.
Despite the occasional awkwardness of the band, the set was highly enjoyable. Each member of the band played with a certain ferocity, and surprisingly tight for a band that clearly no longer wants to be lo-fi garage darlings. Yet their youthful energy and simplicity that permeates all aspects of the record still were in full force live. Highlights included “End of the Night”, which proved not to be that, as popular “All Die Young” immediately followed. A solid mix of new and old songs led to a 45 minute ecstatic set. The show concluded with the announcement that the band doesn’t believe in encores and would be finished after “Dye the World”. The album closer brought the crowd even closer together, swaying and relishing in the moment as the band played their last power chords amidst cooing vocals.
The End served to be a perfect venue for the band – its demographic, capacity, and overall garage feel perfectly matched that of the Smith Westerns. The two-foot tall stage and simple lighting created the intimacy of a house party, a gathering of a lot of friends instead of a stage show, which allowed the music to speak for itself. Considering the pace the band’s growing, though, I doubt that luxury will be afforded next time they swing through Music City. So it goes. The show was still a memorable one, and an impressive performance from a bunch of kids who still can’t even legally drink.
Imagine, Pt 3
Be My Girl
End of the Night
All Die Young
Girl in Love
Dye the World