Live Review: We Are Scientists, Black Whales, Rewards @ Neumos 7/28

“Let’s explore our feelings,” bassist Chris Cain sagely and deliberately intones into the mic as the three-piece high energy rock ‘n’ roll funsters We Are Scientists take to the stage and launch into ‘Nice Guys’ — the second single from their recently released fourth studio album, Barbara.

all photos by Jeff Gough

Taking their name from the song “We Are Scientists” by the recently reformed 90s emo band Cap’n Jazz, the New York-based group have enjoyed stellar success in the UK, where they regularly play to 80,000-strong summer festival crowds, and earlier this year they performed a completely sold-out show at London’s uber-trendy live music venue Hoxton Bar & Grill.

Tonight at Neumo’s, however, the audience, while not quite in the festival field-filling numbers, is equally excited and enthralled as the animated trio bounce along to their highly addictive brand of driving, riff-heavy, angular rock with their quirky, frantically romantic songs all delivered with a knowing wink and a cheeky smile.

Lead singer Keith Murray sports a white v-neck t-shirt with skinny black jeans and hilariously chunky red and white Reebok high tops that oddly complement his rapidly-graying trendy haircut, while bassist Chris opts for the more sensible choice of wardrobe with his beige boat shoes and light blue shirt making him look as if he was on his way to Shilshole Bay Marina rather than playing a rock concert. His trademark mustache and librarian-circa-1985 spectacles are happily intact, which most fans would agree are probably the two single greatest things about this band after the music.

Former drummer for UK indie rockers Razorlight, Andy Burrows keeps the frenetic beats for W.A.S. pounding tonight, and with his shaggy overgrown bowl cut and mustache the size of a dead rodent to match, you could be forgiven for thinking that he’d been recruited directly from the cast of Spinal Tap.

The onstage banter between songs is hilarious. Here is a band that write great, sincerely-worded, up-and-at-em rock songs but don’t take themselves or rock ‘n’ roll itself too seriously for a second. “Welcome to Seattle!,” Chris says, apparently to the audience, to which Keith replies incredulously, “Are you talking to me and Andy?,” and after a pause, Chris responds, “Yes… meet some of the locals” and the girls in the audience scream their approval.

The self-described Scientists then jump feet-first into ‘Inaction’ from their breakthrough album With Love And Squalor and just after it ends Chris upturns his half clenched hand as if crushing an invisible peach and deadpans with mock severity “Can you FEEL the INTENSITY?” But before there’s even time to say “We can Chris, we really can” we’re back into a barrage of veritable W.A.S. stompers including ‘I Don’t Bite’, ‘Impatience’, ‘Rules Don’t Stop’ and ‘Break It Up’, which all see Keith pogo-ing for the mic with every verse on pigeon-toed tippy toes.

After the frenzied and glorious hi-hat onslaught of early single “The Great Escape,” which sounds like a spin dryer full of cymbals, Chris then announces that they have a very special guest here tonight, “and no, it’s not Eddie Vedder”. Support act Rewards then walks on stage and takes over vocal duties as the band cover one of his otherworldly songs while drummer Andy plays lead guitar and frontman (and one-time W.A.S. drummer) Keith gets behind the drumkit.

The show ends with audience favorite, “After Hours,” and the band bid us farewell after a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining show. Later on this week they begin their world tour starting in Brisbane, Australia, and it’s probably worth booking your plane ticket there now to catch their next insanely brilliant live performance.

In support were Seattle locals Black Whales with their harmonica-heavy, tambourine-flecked vintage-styled rock that takes its cues from luminaries such as Bob Dylan and The Animals. Lead singer Alex Plain is clad in an unassuming gray t-shirt and blue jeans, toting a yellow Fender Telecaster Thinline, and the band are all having a great time and clearly enjoying the 60s-informed music that they make. Second song “Rattle Yer Bones” is a set highlight, with it’s upbeat and gently undulating jaunty rock gaining smiles and nodding heads from all inside the venue.

Also in support was solo experimental singer-songwriter Rewards as mentioned above. “My hologram band from Vancouver got held up at immigration,” says Aaron Pfenning, better known as the co-founder of iPod-Nano-commercial soundtrackers Chairlift. His reverb-laden and delay-washed set starts with swirling guitar feedback that sounds eerily like an organ in an abandoned church until a pulsating bass and kick drum pattern kicks in and implants itself firmly in your ribcage. With a short, unkempt pony tail, skinny jeans and weathered yet strangely pristine Nike high tops adorning his frame, Rewards sings his breathy vocals like a particularly listless angel that’s just been woken from a deep sleep. Drowsily ambling around the stage and awkwardly slow-dancing with the mic stand, his output of slo-fi, haunted 80s slacker pop pumps through the speakers while he alternates between strolling off-stage into the crowd during songs and lying down between the stage monitors, whiling away the time like an indifferent, hipster Tom Sawyer. Experimental in every sense of the word, he’s the very definition of an enigmatic and eccentric musical boundary-breaker.

High: The immediacy and unrestraint of the opening riff of hit single “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” that instantly reminds you that We Are Scientists are more fun than a day off work to go to the zoo in a flying locomotive powered by laughter and jellybeans.

Low: The fact that incessant jokers Keith and Chris aren’t on the stand-up comedy circuit. Check out their recent “Steve Wants His Money” video shorts on YouTube, if any further proof were needed of their hilarity and witty brilliance. Flight Of The Conchords, watch out!

In a Tweet: Throw a copy of the NME, the New Yorker, two mustaches, and 7 cans of Red Bull into a blender and this is what you’ll hear.

Were you there? What did you think of the show? Highlights? Best Moments? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.

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  1. Posted July 29, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    This show was incredible. Not only was Keith peddling the merch but super sweet to boot. And funny.
    They were full of energy and gave me my fifth wind in order to survive to the end. Their onstage banter is classic and one of a kind.
    To quote my friend, Lori, “They need their own talk show.”


  2. Posted July 29, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Andy wasn’t actually the drummer last night. It was Danny Allen from the Australian band Youth Group. Andy’s currently working on his solo album and getting ready to tour.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    RE: Black Whales

    Alex Robert, not Alex Plain.

  4. Posted July 31, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Hey Pam, yes I agree, they definitely need their own talk show, and quick! And how cool that Keith was workin’ the merch before and after the show, no prima donna rockstar posturing here.

    Thanks for the heads up Abby on this glaring erroneous falsification! I thought it was Andy and that when they said onstage that he was from Australia, I thought they were just making fun of him being from England! Yikes! Glad we got that cleared up. We’ll get that changed shortly so the world will finally know the truth. I still think he looks like he should be in Spinal Tap though.

    Thanks Anonymous, ‘preciate the correction. The Black Whales MySpace page lists him as ‘Alex Plain’, so maybe its a pseudonym for when he plays music or fights crime. We’ll have to ask him next time we see him.

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