Monday, June 11, 2007

Air Stereo, Sweat, and the Far Northeast: The Damnwells in Concert

The Damnwells are a touchy subject for me. I know they’re not the best band in the world, and I also know that their studio records have so many layers that they couldn’t possibly reenact their songs at a live venue. However, I’ve listened to their new album, “Air Stereo,” no less than 465 times since it mysteriously arrived at my doorstep in an unmarked envelope with no return address and no note inside. It’s like the music gods sent me a cosmic musical offering to compensate for the post-modern classical concept music that regularly finds its way to my mailbox.

I didn’t know that a band from Brooklyn could be so genuinely self-deprecating. I didn’t know that their lead singer/guitarist Alex Dezen is better at constructing sentences than melodies (check out his blog at I didn’t know that I loved pop-rock so much. I also didn’t know that they wrote the quintessential generation-angst anti-establishment American ballad, “God Bless America,” a 10-minute opus that declares, among other things:

God bless America
And her catacomb flag
From purple mountain’s majesty
To the streets of Baghdad

Oh how I loved you
It’s true
Your churches and casinos
And happy hour, too
Do you ever need me?
Cause, baby, I need you

The Damnwells came through town about two weeks ago on a co-headlining tour with some dude from Brooklyn named Ari Hest. Coincidentally, in a pizza shop across the street from the venue, a late-twenties man told me just before the show that he “went to Horace Mann high school” with Ari Hest, and that Hest was “really awesome.” JackO and I didn’t stay for Hest, but we’ll take that guy’s word for it.

Were the Damnwells as impressive in person as they are on lined paper? No. Not even close. The show was uninspired, as both crowd and bassist appeared disinterested, and the only people in the room completely sold on what the Damnwells were selling were Dezen, the drummer, JackO, and myself. Particularly aggravating was the lead guitarist, who (for no apparent reason) wore a black suit and a bright red tie, as well as a prick-ish countenance and self-addicted scoff. All of which clashed heavily against the rest of the band, whose torn jeans and wrinkled, button-down shirts complemented their humility.

Still, despite all grievances, their songs came off well, and Dezen managed to sweat all over his equipment (metaphor?). He also called out the lead guitarist for his dress, noting that, “Dave’s from New Hampshire. He was going to wear shorts and flip-flops, but he’s used to dressing for the cold weather.”

Even better, the Damnwells concert filled out list of things that rock--and don't rock:


1. The Damnwells
2. Angst-ridden anti-Americanism
3. Choco Tacos


1. Formal attire
2. New Hampshire
3. Classical concept music

Stay Superb, Alex Dezen
DJ Damnwells

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