The Sounds with Division of Laura Lee @ The Mercy Lounge, Nashville, 4/21/04
Firstly, the bass players of these two bands are terrific rock sidemen. Jonas Gustavsson of Division of Laura Lee plays the perfect Keith Richards of the band -- feet wide apart, knees pointed together, strumming his bass across the neck. When he stepped up to sing "Dirty Love," it was like Keith's "Little T & A" -- a little bit cooler than Mick's songs.
Secondly, the sound was fantastic. The Mercy Lounge in Nashville is in the upstairs of an old warehouse. The stage is small and only two and a half feet or so tall. Add to that the floor-to-ceiling support beams, the stairwell in the middle of the room, the bar and the raised section with the sofas and you have the makings of a really horrible echo chamber. But there were no problems. I arrived just as DOLL started and the sound was so good that, standing outside the club, I thought I was hearing a recording.
The Sounds would later benefit from the same great mix but it was more impressive in DOLL's case. They play with such loud guitars and swells of noise -- like evil, rocking shoegazers -- that keeping the whole ocean of noise below flood level increases listening satisfaction. "Endless Factories" was belted out with unrestrained enthusiasm but without brutal frequencies.
The band kept up their unbridled energy despite getting little love from the crowd. They were greeted with the typical Nashville indifference -- ten feet minimum between stage and crowd. Mostly, the audience had no idea what to expect. They came to see a chirpy pop band and got greeted by a wall of sludgy, urban decay. DOLL's primary singer and guitarist, Per Stalberg has the stage presence of an axe murderer. He alternately prowled the stage and danced like an idiot (just kicking his feet up in the air) -- all the while glaring at the crowd. His mop-top hair, gapped teeth and perfectly flat eyebrows (eyebrow?) give him a Frankenstein's monster quality that goes well with their music but probably intimidated the reluctant crowd.
I got the impression DOLL were less-than-thrilled with our non-dancing-selves, but they weren't exactly before the right crowd. The hipsters in attendance didn't get all dolled-up to shake it to dark Euro-grunge. And in our defense, it was a weeknight. This is, after all, America and we all had to work the next day.
The Sounds, frankly, give me hope. Hope that rockers will follow their lead and make poppier music and the crowd will find them. Not only are their songs, as singer Maja Ivarsson put it, "only hit music," but they act like a proper rock band. Their bass player dwarved Maja as he stood behind her and constantly banged his head to the beat, occasionally singing the choruses though un-mic'ed. When he wasn't playing bass, he was air drumming along. Clearly, that dude is the glue of the band -- the Johnny Ramone of the Sounds.
They give me hope also because their songs are the perfect length and, even when dark, are up. The whole band clearly enjoys playing together, and, despite the odd impression sometimes that an aged porn star was leading the band (Maja's fried platinum hair and heavy eye make-up were all of her that was visible over the crowd), they're brilliantly cohesive.
I said before the show that DOLL would make a nice counterpoint to The Sounds, but it was the other way around. The Sounds fizzy Alka-Seltzer attitude was the perfect complement to DOLL's industrial hangover.