May 15, 2008
Playing in support of their new album, Swimming, this vital, Brooklyn-based (originally from Washington DC) quartet proved that they are more than the sum of their collective recorded parts. Together for ten years, the current (and permanent) line-up have produced two albums together, including Two Thousand (2006), which spawned the semi-hit “So Far We Are,” and the new release.
The band drew heavily from the new album in this performance, playing nearly every song, some of which are the best that the band has ever produced. Standouts were “Abandon” where guitarist/keyboardist Nick stumpf and lead guitarist Josh Wise wove together close vocal harmonies over drummer Aaron Thurston’s hard-hitting big beat. The lovely “Carried Away” and Love In Ruins” were also well-done. Wise’s Spanish double time rhythm guitar (reminiscent of Interpol’s Daniel Kessler- on their “The Lighthouse“) made “Atlanta” very special, as did Thurston’s tricky 6/8 time drum work and bassist Lawrence Stumpf’s sparse but effective bass lines.
It is apparent that French Kicks, like Nada Surf before them, will need to move to a bigger venue for their next Portland performance, as their sound and performance level deserve more room to breathe. With the advent of the new release, it seems obvious that the band are surely on to bigger things.
French Kicks managed to overcome an energy-draining performance by the opening band, Portland’s Pseudo Six. Playing every song at nearly the same tempo, slower than the normal heart rate, the quintet seemed absolutely disinterested in creating any energy of impetus in their tragically flawed, nod inducing set (which seemed far longer than it really was). Dumbfoundingly soporific, with the kinetic energy of a dryer fabric-softener sheet.
Here’s a tip for local bands, given the opportunity to open for a national act: do not take a luxurious swig from your bottles of beer after every song, destroying any sense “momentum” you might have had going with your mid-tempo songs. It really is best to just play your set through, as quickly as you can, with as few interruptions as is humanly possible.
Another gripe: keyboard players, do not sit at your instrument. You are not in a cocktail bar, playing Billy Joel songs. If you are unable to stand when you are playing, you are in the wrong business. In the case of Pseudo Six, their keyboardist chose not to stand, nor to vary his keyboard sound or tone, even once- relegating his instrument to a Smooth Jazz, Fender Rhodes-y pile of mush. The band were not without their positive aspects, but the members were obviously too nervous or too distracted to showcase those charms in any meaningful way.
It is to French Kicks’ credit that they were able to overcome that black hole of an opening set. They had to jumpstart the evening, as if with defibrillator pads to the collective consciousness of their audience. Many bands, even national acts, could not have pulled that off.