RANA, Mercury Lounge, NYC- 2/19
NYC ROLL-TOP: Baby’s Got A New Bike
I'm still not entirely sure how they get their hair like that; people like
Mr. Durant (keyboards) and Mr. Southern (bass), I mean. They've got those
goofy, gawky '70s looks of a teenagers growing their hair out for the first
time, so it hangs sort of sheepishly over their ears. In other words: RANA
is coming dangerously close to having Julian Casablancas damage. Meh. So it
goes, I suppose. Though it's an admittedly tongue-in-cheek approach, it's
interesting to watch their hair and try to equate it to what's been
happening to their music lately, which is a lot.
A year ago, RANA were playing endless multi-set shows in the Wetlands'
basement, mixing mellow covers like Corrina, Corrine with long and
snaking originals like Smile. It wasn't hippie music at all but…
y’know. Their most recent New York gig found them at The Mercury
Lounge, shooting off a 45 opening set for indie-psych rockers The Brian
Jonestown Massacre (a wicked band name if I ever heard one). It's a
different medium for their music, and – for where they are right now – it
makes sense. Despite the hairdos and attitudes, it doesn't undermine the
hippie undertones of some of the earlier approaches. Or, at least, the
integrity of it.
The impulse that initially invited people to dub jamband music with that
name had to do with the fact that it combined genres. Rock and roll just
wasn't interesting anymore. The new music didn't sound like any one thing,
and therefore couldn't be named. All the bands got lumped together. Then a
lot of them started sounding alike. Dig this: what RANA does is pull in
disparate, cool styles within the sphere of straight rock and roll
and learn how to nail them. It's the best of both worlds. The usual defect
in bands that champion stylistic variation is that everything they do is so
damn wishy-washy. They haven't had a lifetime to, say, learn bluegrass, so
they can only offer the next-best thing. RANA plays rock and roll, and they
play it well. Things have come full circle.
Early on at the Mercury gig, they snapped into "Baby's Got A New Bike". One
might describe this as their Talking Heads-style number. It's a hard
comparison to avoid: the band will often run through Buildings and
Food-era numbers like "Thank You For Sending Me An Angel" or "Found A
Job" before next-beating into the beginning of "New Bike". The device, which
seems to be akin to training wheels, allows the band to transfer the vibe
from one tune to the next. At the Mercury, the training wheels came off, and – lo – "Baby's Got A New Bike" rode by itself. And, golly, it worked! Many
of the songs in their repertoire feel like this.
What followed – "It's So Hard (Believe Me)", penned by guitarist Mr. Metzger – was the literal and musical centerpiece of the band's nine-song set. Weird
and paradoxical as it might seem for this stage in their career (and
certainly their intentions), what it was… was jamming: a long
improvisation tagged with an elegant little set of verses at the end. In
structure, it owes to things like "Run Like An Antelope" and The Ominous
Seapods' "Cary Suite". In execution, it owes more to The Velvet
Undergrounds' "Sister Ray".
It wasn't jamming that I'm used to seeing. It's the kind of jamming that
only exists on box sets. It was jamming that it made it sound like jamming
isn't something people have been doing at all for the last 30 years. It
sounded like The Velvets, even like a harder-edged version of The Grateful
Dead's first tentative forays into melting electric blues. Where bands like
The Disco Biscuits and even String Cheese Incident are conscious of what has
come immediately before them, RANA have become pleasantly coifed amnesiacs.
What has happened since Wetlands is this: Mr. Durant has managed to turn his
Rhodes from a pretty instrument of mellow tones to a vintage box of
snarlingly nasty fuzz. Maybe it has something to do with the hair, I dunno,
but it works. The band's principle charm isn't the fact that they know how
to groove, but that they rely on that ability to do more than people dance.
They use it to build momentum. When they covered The Waterboys' "We Will Not
Be Lovers" – just before The Brian Jonestown Massacre took the stage in the
midst of what seemed to be a personal meltdown – they got the cross-armed
indie rockers to do something that I can't say I've ever seen: move. It was
slight, to be sure, but the room was nodding along. And swaying.