Show Review: Hockey with Asa Ransom and fakeyourowndeath at Bottom of the Hill, 1/15/10

by Gordon Elgart on January 16, 2010

It's Hockey, but he's not singing Oh Canada.

I like going to see hockey. I’m always telling people that they can’t appreciate hockey unless they see it live. You can’t see the speed, the positioning, or really feel the hits unless you’re in the arena. But what about Hockey, the band? Do you need to see them live to truly appreciate them? Do they bring something to the table live that you just can’t hear on their excellent record, Mind Chaos?

Opening the show was a band that’s probably called fakeyourowndeath (what their MySpace page says), or possibly Fake Your Own Death. My first impression of them was that they looked like some guys who went to Blue Bear, and have now decided to start a band because they like the same kind of music. They look like they had to hire babysitters in order to play their gig. They’re clearly hobbyists. What surprised me about them, then, is how good they are. Their songs are really good, like if Interpol decided to play faster and have some hard rock riffs. The vocals had a tinge of early Elvis Costello, and they play around with song structure a lot as well. If these guys were British 20-somethings, they’d probably be headliners. As it is, I hope they’re having a blast.

Next up to the Bottom of the Hill stage were Asa Ransom, a band whose song clips didn’t excite me at all before seeing them, but as they were setting it up, I figured out they were gonna be pretty cool. Not only did they have a percussionist to go along with the drummer, but three of the guys in the band were wearing “period” clothes. I appreciate when a band goes for a look, and for the most part, they did. (That the keyboard player was dressed like Miami Vice and the drummer was wearing a simple t-shirt was mildly disappointing.

Their music is harder to describe, but it’s an exciting mix of a Nick Cave stomp played at a Talking Heads tempo with hints of Middle Eastern music. The bass player stomps around the stage playing insane bass lines, and occasionally screaming into his microphone. I really wished he were on a bigger stage, and so does he, I’d imagine. They’re the best kind of band to be openers: a fun sound and a dynamic stage presence, but not enough variety in their music to be interesting past a half-an-hour. If you see their name on a bill, get there early enough to see them.

When the puck dropped on Hockey’s set, a couple of things were apparent immediately. First, the band sounds really amazing and polished live. Second, I have feeling they’re going to be big, really soon.

While the band is really good as a whole, each of them extremely good on their instruments, the key weapon in this group is the singer, Benjamin Grubin. He’s the Sydney Crosby of this band. (Actually, this band is on Capitol Records, so he’s the Alexander Ovechkin of the band.)  He sounds ridiculously good as a live vocalist, far better than I expected. Of course, I always expect these indie and indie-like bands to have shabby singing, so for him to sound this good was extra special. He’s got an excellent stage presence as well, and although he often plays guitar, the energy of the band goes up when he’s by himself with the microphone and the crowd at his feet.

The second thing, and the reason I think they’re going to be big, is because you can judge a band’s potential on the crowd. And when the crowd is filled with groups of drunk young girls who don’t pay attention to the songs except to turn around and yell “Whoo! I love this song!” and then go back to talking about what she said about him when she talked to her about them, you know they have a good future. They should take the clothes up a notch, though. Both the singer and the bass player were wearing loose dirty white t-shirts, and we were close enough to the band to smell their armpit stink. Not cool.

You're on a major label now. You can wash your clothes.

Musically, though, there’s really nothing negative I can say about the band’s set. They mixed the funk numbers with their one  folk song, “Four Holy Photos,” which has a distinct Bob Dylan feel. It sounds like nothing else they do, so much so that even though I’ve listened to their album a dozen-or-so times, I was still convinced it was a cover song. The songs that went over the biggest with the crowd were “Song Away” and their breakthrough single, “Too Fake.”

As a live act, Hockey doesn’t bring much extra to the table from what you’re going to get on their record. But then again, what’s on their record is pretty darned groovy. You have the benefit of pristine live vocals, and the distraction of loud drunk girls (which some people might put in the benefit column), so take a listen to Hockey, and if you like what you hear, it would be worth going out of your way to see them.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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