Photo: Mariah DeLaye
Usually, alternative venues have my wholehearted support, but last night's show at the SMART Art Gallery space at 1906 S. Flores just made me nervous. Not because of wires dangling in puddles, onstage fights between band and bartenders or unexpected visits by police (all of which have actually happened at "legitimate" San Antonio music venues), but because I feared for Jennifer Ling Datchuk's delicate porcelain work showing on the walls not five feet from all the action. UNSPOILER ALERT: at the end of the night, Datchuk's work made it through intact. Whew.
Datchuk describes her work as silent witnesses to events unfolding around it, and so, I'll do the rest of this review from the perspective of the plaster handkerchief clutched in a porcelain chicken foot, hung stage left of the show. The show was put together just one week ago by Fl!ght Gallery owner and frequent Current photographer Justin Parr for his pal, Cola-Cola bandleader Josh Ben-Noah, which explains the odd venue choice and the odd bill of one-man-band, indie rock group, and dj. Boy wonder Marcus Rubio, sans Gospel Choir of Pillows, laid down an absurd number of effects pedals, and introduced several brand new songs for guitar and logic templates. Staring at either his Mac book pro or his spiral notebook (the kid's still a music theory and comp major at Trinity), the all-by-his-lonesome Rubio started his set with a freshly-written number as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel. "No matter what you do," he sang, "you can't recreate Neil Young's "Harvest Moon,"" to a tune reminiscent of, yes, "Harvest Moon." Only instead of a winsome ballad to faded love, Rubio questions the only identity he's shown most San Antonians since puberty: "You only want attention, for the act of playing a show," he confesses (or condemns?). From his younger years as an outsider folkie on a fiddle, Rubio has progressed into electronic Metal Machine Music glitches and rumbles, looping himself to stretch his expanding knowledge of composition. Even though he may sing like a nasal Jeff Tweedy, the underlying music has more in common with classical's complex structure. For example, another brand-spanking-new song, "I Was a Young Steven Spielberg," begins with sophisticated cow punk guitars, morphs into straight pop, segues quickly into a lustier rock format and finally rounds back to the countrified licks of the song's intro. He pleased the audience by announcing that on June 2, he'll be playing this very space yet again, demonstrating "a really fucked up piece for the musical saw" with lots of noise rock. Whoopie!
And, hey, I'm just a plaster hankie here, but mightn't that be a hard act to follow? Because, comparatively, Cola-Cola's power pop sounded a little flat. The band, on tour from LA and making a sweep across I-10 and up I-35 through Austin, Denton, Norman, OK (good luck!), etc..., was founded by Ben-Noah, a San Antonio native who previously gigged locally with bands the Bombadiers and Dingus. it wasn't that the performance lacked energy. In fact, that bass player really needed to calm the fuck down with the jumping and the power rocking; did no one tell him that is NOT how one acts around porcelain artwork? Bassist in a china shop, everybody, hey-o! Anyway, Cola Cola, a standard guitar/guitar/bass/drums quartet comprised of dudes in sneakers, clearly embrace the mid-90s as their source of musical inspiration, they even covered the Breeders' "Divine Hammer" (1993) and Weezer's "El Scorcho" (1996), and it's fun for old fogeys who graduated pre-2001, but it can also verge on boring since they heard Stephen Malkmus and Jawbreaker the first time. For kids thrilling to discover fresh, vintage indie pop, this band does provide masterful guitar work and charming dual vocals. And to be fair, it's probably a little disorienting to play an gallery full of expensive, fragile artwork with your drummer wedged in the corner, sans benefit of a professional sound guy. (Their new record, Turn On Your Electric Light, sounds 20 times crisper than their live effort.) All in all, they seemed to be good sports, grateful to play in their bandleader's hometown.
Lastly, Gold Trash (a.k.a. the dj formerly known as John Mata) whipped up frothy dance beats for a dwindling, post-midnight crowd, which was still a noble effort for a Monday night. Even deaf people can enjoy themselves during a Gold Trash set, thanks to the dj's talent in inspiring the most fucked up dancing ever. There were power aerobics moves to MGMT, shimmying to Uffie and pogo-ing to David Bowie, with a little Rich Boy rap to keep things dirty. Next time you see a crowd of people attempting the Worm at a Bar Mitzvah or a dance-off during a marathon, look for Gold Trash's green felt banner.