The logical side of me that also took an advertising class in college understood perfectly why OGRE YOU ASSHOLE headlined over Sunset Rubdown – 95 percent of the people crammed into Osaka’s Unagidani Sunsui venue came out to see OGRE and probably never heard of Sunset Rubdown. The geek in me who also absolutely loathed those soul-crushing advertising classes, though, couldn’t get over the fact that one of North America’s most captivating rock bands responsible for one of the top albums of 2009 didn’t nab the top spot Monday night. Maybe I just wanted to see maximum Spencer Krug. Or maybe I just felt gipped being unable to get a beer before the second set.
A day later I’m still not sure what to make of openers Qomolangma Tomato. They thrashed around while playing a pshychy hardcore that pounds a great riff down as much as possible, the lead singer leaping into the air and pumping his fist as if possessed by the music. After seeing the singer repeat the mid-air-fist-pump move about eight times during the first few songs, though, the gesture seemed less spontaneous and more “look at us we’re so energetic” while the once-awesome riffs were stretched out for too long. Then one of the guitarists climbed up the amps and fell off them, and they won me back. Then the lead singer kept on posing and doing a dance best described as “taking the pulse” and he started looking like the guy from Incubus. I just don’t know.
Qomolangma Tomato do a great job of playing loud, moshable hardcore punctured by the lead singer’s howls, that still has a melodic underbelly. Their best song sounded like skull-bashing Yo La Tengo. When they stepped out of that zone, though, yikes. The last song of their set was a slower tune and it just kept going and going, never veering towards the hardcore noise. Anytime Qomolangma Tomato slowed things down, the results were boring and made me miss the energy (put-on or not) of their faster moments. And someone tell the lead singer to stop posing so much.
“Hello, we’re Sunset Rubdown and we know absolutely no Japanese” Krug said to the crowd before picking up a can of Heineken and letting out a “kompai” before diving into “Silver Moons,” the lead track from this year’s rewarding Dragonslayer. The group only played three songs from their latest, though, mixing in plenty of older material as well. Shouldn’t come as a surprise – Sunset Rubdown is less album-oriented and more about allowing Krug’s achingly personal surrealist lyrics a place to slither around. This was well on display during the group’s excellent set.
Lets step away from Krug for a moment – his backing band did an excellent job making the all-over-the-place music of Sunset Rubdown come alive. The group switched off instruments song to song, the member’s musical chops clearly evident, especially on the stuffed-to-the-seams rock of “The Mending Of The Gown.” The drums sounded especially prominent during the band’s set (though it should be noted they sounded extra loud for all three bands), adding an extra oomph to the songs. They especially stood out on a sped-up version of Dragonslayer standout “Idiot Heart.”
But these are Krug’s songs, and he gets completely lost in them live. The lyrics have always been what sets Sunset Rubdown apart from the crowd, and it’s weird to think lines like “And I’d like to watch the white flash of your heels as they take turns / Breaking the desert heat to beckon me in languages I’ve never learned” just shoot over the majority of the audience. Still, Krug poured himself into every song, whether he manned a guitar as on “Idiot Heart” or sat behind a keyboard like on the slow-burning “Us Ones In Between.” The highlight of the set came on “You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)” where Krug’s voice overpowered all the noise around him, his shouts of “you got to wait, you got to wait for me” sounding especially desperate. Sunset Rubdown closed out with a massive rendition of “The Men Are Called Horsemen There” where Krug played keyboard from his knees while shouting “If I was the horse I’d throw up the reigns!”
OGRE YOU ASSHOLE had a lot to follow up, but they did an admirable job. Unlike the other two bands, the members of OGRE mostly stood still while playing their instruments, working up to an excited sway. They let their ’90 indie rock influenced music do all the talking – and it was loud. OGRE push a lot of sound out of their guitars, adding a nice ooomph to their slacker rock.
OGRE’s influences come through clearly in their music – one song sounded exactly like “Doin’ the Cockroach” – but they never become derivative. OGRE’s music tends to circle around itself, the guitars sticking mostly to the same riff with an occasional variation thrown in. This song, performed with a little more bite thanks to the louder drums, offers a great snapshot of what OGRE’s music is all about. The standout of the set was the aggressive guitar-workout “Coin-Laundry (Laundromat)” which saw the band at their most excited and the crowd at their most pumped. I still think Sunset Rubdown should have headlined, but they are a special band. OGRE YOU ASSHOLE showed they can definitely handle the spotlight and they’ve got great tunes to boot.