Saturday, April 13, 2013

Napoleon's Legion

I first heard the band Napoleon when they played with Mystical Weapons at Santos's Party House earlier this year. I ended up befriending Julian Anderson (vocals, bass) and Julien O'neill (guitar, vocals) and was eager to hear more of their tight, rhythmically sharp and impassioned songs, so when they invited me to their show at Legion Bar I made my way out to a gritty end of Williamsburg last Saturday night. Even though Julian had told me they were going on after 11, I was curious about the four other bands on the lineup so I got out there early.
The back room at Legion is about the size of an average living room and it was completely empty when I arrived, with no sign of any music about to be made. I had a fine time waiting with my drink, especially when the bartender put on Let It Be by The Replacements and just let it play. Eventually, I heard something coming out of the other room and headed back there just in time to catch the last song of Rob Karpay's set. That was all I needed to hear of a guy shouting over pre-programmed tracks from his tiny keyboard. I will say that he has guts, and that can go a long way in rock & roll.
The next band was billed as Jizzmoppers, either the best or worst band name of all time, and my expectations were low. I perked up momentarily when I thought the guitarist was Julien from Napoleon, but then I realized it was another guy with perfect lead-guitarist looks. They turned out to have a good (but not slavish) driving psych power-pop sound and well-crafted songs, holding my interest with growing enthusiasm for the length of their set. Speaking of looks, I wouldn't expect a drummer under these circumstances to be wearing headphones - click track? line-in from the PA? - and it gave them a slightly provisional look. Are we witnessing a rehearsal, sound check or demo session? The rhythm section was locked in, though, with the drummer driving everyone on, so whatever works, I suppose. They would do well to fill out their songs with some harmony vocals on the choruses, but they are otherwise well on their way.
They're actually called Spires
Before Jizzmoppers left the stage, the vocalist muttered something about their manager and said they were actually called Spires - much better! Get a free sample of their sound here, and keep an ear out for more.
Spires broke down their equipment, the next band set up, and suddenly the room was packed. "That's our friend," the guy next to me crowed at his girlfriend, gesturing toward Sam Cooper, who was leading the trio. The first song was like three songs in one, but in a jumbled way that didn't appeal to me. I tried one or two more but the focus improved only slightly and his nasal voice failed to become more charming. Since I had been standing for a while, I cut out back to the barroom where I found a full-blown sweaty dance party in progress. There was more joy in that room for me as there is never a bad time to hear Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough. Sam Cooper must have a good network, though, as I saw a group of folks leaving the back room when his set was over.
Visuals
Visuals were up next, a twosome of Marshall Ryan (drums/electronics) and Andrew Fox (guitar/vocals). I had checked out their cool song Levitation in advance and was intrigued. They got off to a rocky start, the perils of no sound check evident in their difficulties in getting the balance of instruments right. Things improved when a helpful member of the audience told the drummer to turn up the electronics - if he hadn't, I would have. Things got better once again when the guitarist broke his cheap instrument, which was tuned only in theory, and borrowed a beautiful axe from Napoleon. The last three songs went off without a hitch, giving a clearer impression of their tense post-punk sonic landscape. No shame if Visuals is more suited to the studio for now, and I'd like to hear what emanates next from their quirky world.
Napoleon had to work fast
Visuals vanished and Napoleon began squeezing their five pieces onto the tiny stage. They worked in a hurry, as it was nearly 12:30 and they only had until 1:00am. Nice guys not only finish last, but they also get the shortest set! Napoleon has bigger stages in their future, but they sounded great in the tiny room, whipping off album-opener Sarafan with polish and passion. Their new keyboard player cut a striking figure, even if they're still figuring out where her instrument figures into the expert two-guitar dialog. Five songs, including at least one new one, and they were done - way too short, but I have no doubt that I'll get to see them again. They packed up so fast you would've thought the wolf was actually at the door.
Napoleon gave their all in their short set
I said my goodbyes and began the long trek back to my bed. It was an invigorating night but I was ready for sleep. The blue and silver exes on the back of my hand would remind me in the morning of all I had heard and seen one long night at Legion.

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