Tristan Perich/Corn Mo/Captured! By Robots at North Six, Brooklyn- 5/6
NYC ROLL-TOP: Robots! Accordions! Circuits!
"Come see the robots and the accordions!" I texted my friend.
She called back right away. "What?!" she asked.
"Just one accordion," I told her, "but lots of robots. They're probably not playing together, though." She determined that she probably didn't want to see robots playing death metal — as Captured! By Robots, a robotic "octet," do — but appreciated being called. She also missed Corn Mo's power ballads played on a squeezebox, and a performance of so-called "one-bit" music by New York avant-gardener Tristan Perich. Her loss.
Novelty music calls to mind the likes of "Weird Al" Yankovic, uke master Tiny Tim, and any number of one-hit wonders through the years, but it is a remarkably fertile space for creativity, as the clap clap blog argued recently. Notably, hip-hop itself was considered a novelty at first. Other examples include Beck (who certainly proved he had more than "Loser" in him) and, more recently, DJ Danger Mouse (who rose from his Gray Album Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up to indie ubiquity with hawt collaborations with MF Doom and Cee-Lo).
Considered in the present, though, it's sometimes hard to imagine futures such as those. In the moment, performed live, novelty music is more often hilarious and surprising. Without having to worry about (all of) the same rules as a typical club act, musicians can fool audiences into good times by sheer dint of their gimmicks.
Opening the night was Perich, whose One-Bit Music "album" will be released in a limited edition by Cantaloupe later this year. Not so much a compact disc as a simple circuit wired into a jewel case with a headphone jack, the sound is glitchy, groovy, and effective. Donning a vest made of ribbons and bright plastic sunglasses, Perich plugged his "album" into North Six’s PA and gave shape to the bleeps with propulsive live drumming. More experimentation than entertainment, Perich’s music was danceable and unexpectedly joyous. Most of Perich’s songs were just one vocal away from pure pop bliss.
Up next was perennial Texas-by-New York accordionist Corn Mo. Like Perich, Corn Mo's self-presentation was equally important in creating his musical effect: white pants, white rhinestone-studded jacket, massive mutton chops, and the long, blonde hair of a cock rock god. Tucking a drumstick under his shoelace to bash a cymbal placed at his feet, Corn Mo slowly built into "Lollipop Time," his theme song. With golden pipes, he lured the crowd in, soon bouncing hyperactively to a keyboard to introduce a number about time travel via astral projection, whereby the song's narrator (presumably Corn Mo himself) goes back in time to pick up sex tips from Benjamin Franklin (such as, uh, "the Wet Franklin"). It sounded like Freddie Mercury's "Killer Queen."
Despite his surrealism, Corn Mo was unabashedly sincere about his massive stadium rock crescendos. After performing "the Day Jason Kline Cried" (he got peed on during recess, y'understand), the accordionist slammed into one of the few unprompted renditions of "Freebird" heard anywhere lately, and (almost) made one remember why it's such an enduring song.
Where his previous touring shows featured fresh batches of songs composed for themes — Star Trek, The Ten Commandments, Richard Simmons’ exercise videos — Jason Vance’s latest mostly-robotic revue focused on songs that might be heard at a wedding. Normally performing as JBot, the enslaved creator of such robots as GTRBOT666 and the tambourine-wielding, Ape Which Hath No Name, Vance became JBotski, the enslaved creator of the aforementioned robots, but also a rabbi (and ordained by the Universal Life Church). Powered by electricity and a massive vacuum pump,
Vance and the robots sliced through numbers like Buster Poindexter's "Hot, Hot, Hot," Kool and the Gang's "Celebration," and the Village People's "Y.M.C.A.," as well as non-wedding numbers like June Carter Cash's "Ring of Fire." Vance performed weddings (legal in most states), offered wedding cake and annulments, and accepted abuse from his robots ("I wish you would fucking die!" screamed one of his drummers). Another drummer offered marital advice: "a spouse doesn't want another retarded spouse." As music, it wasn't necessarily something to throw on the iPod (in fact, the thought is a bit frightening). As entertainment, any Captured! By Robots program is a nearly unmatched spectacle not soon to be forgotten. That's something most bands can't offer.
Jesse Jarnow blogs at wunderkammern27.com