Presidents of the United States of America, Stubbs Bar-B-Q, Austin, TX- 10/8
In this time of financial uncertainty, negative political ads, and banal sound bites, who can we trust to lead our country into a new, better era? For those fed up with both candidates and their empty promises, why not look to established musical figures? Enter the Presidents of the United States of America.
No, I’m not talking about Bill Clinton’s jazz trio, featuring George H.W. Bush on drums and Jimmy “Peanut Oil” Carter on standup bass, but the alternative rock group who made it big in the music scene 13 years ago singing about peaches and lumps.
Appropriate, then, they play Stubb’s in Austin, TX, a month before the election. Now, political parallels such as these may be too easy for a writer like myself to make, but seeing as I showed up late to the show, I’m not exactly what you call presidential material.’ Oops, I did it again. Sorry, I’ll stop.
Local band Black & White Years was already on stage upon my arrival. An indie electro-rock group, they sounded like a rocked-out version of the Talking Heads. (I found out later that Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads produced their self-titled album. Point: Greg.). The band played a solid set as the crowd steadily grew, and they were clearly enjoying their music, but the mood changed dramatically as soon as the Presidents stepped on stage.
I’ve been to countless shows during my short time in Austin, and this was easily one of the most energetic crowds I’ve seen. Jumping up and down, pumping their fists, singing along, the audience matched the fun, playful energy of the Presidents themselves.
The band came out playing quick nuggets of brash, poppy rock like “Tiki God” and “Kitty,” interjecting some of Stevie Wonder’s Superstitious” into the middle of the latter. They were clearly enjoying themselves on stage, feeding off the energy of the audience.
Chris Ballew has a great voice, and it sounded loud and crisp as it carried out over the crowd. He wasn’t afraid to participate with them, either, encouraging sing-a-longs and telling parents who brought their children (quite a few) to explain to their kids “why it’s OK to swear in rock n’ roll,” before dropping a couple F-bombs.
And for those who looked close enough on stage, they would see all the dancing and moving around was aided by Chris playing a two-string bass and guitarist Dave Dederer playing a three-string guitar. Intricacy isn’t the name of the game; they’re up there to rock and have a fun time.
And that fun time included a themed arrangement of songs dubbed the “Bug Block.” This included the insect-friendly tracks “Ladybug,” “Bug City,” “Boll Weevil,” and “Dune Buggy.” And after? “Rock N Roll Pest Control” to clear the area.
The Presidents sampled songs from their entire catalog, including their latest album These Are the Good Times, released last March. When they flowed from one song seamlessly into “Lump,” the crowd immediately began singing accompaniment. They also played an odd cover of “Dueling Banjos,” which included a story about a giant baby, and then broke into a highly entertaining cover of “Video Killed the Radio Star.” The night ended with them playing the fan favorite “Peaches” before “Kick Out the Jams.”
The Presidents of the United States of America put on a fun, energetic show, even if they still sound just as cheesy as they did in 1995. But I imagine that’s what the crowd wanted, and they got their money’s worth. The Presidents have the stoner rock sound of Kyuss mixed with the saccharine sweet quality of a Disney movie, and Wednesday night, the two worked so well together. Hail to the cheese.
Damn, almost made it.