Wow, are Needle Points fun or what! And it’s all because of the basslines. Their opening set at Palisades in Bushwick last night on a bill staged by Christiana of Indie Shuffle would have had a crowd anywhere but in this neighborhood dancing up a storm. OK, maybe not in Williamsburg either, but that’s another story. Within seconds of taking the stage, their guitarist broke a string as he launched into the opening instrumental. But no worries – he’d brought a gorgeous Les Paul as a backup, and blended bits and pieces of echoey surf, sunshiney Memphis soul, lowdown garage rock and hints of southern boogie into the band’s expansive groove. Their burly, bearded bassist rocked a Hofner, a surefire sign that he meant business. “I’m gonna play the fuck out of this bass,” he told the audience and he did. He’s a friendly guy, chatting up the crowd betweeen songs as the band tuned, which was actually a good idea as their frontman – who with the band behind him veered between blue-eyed soul and a garage rock shout – kept quiet. Bass is also the band’s not-so-secret weapon, anchoring the songs with wickedly catchy, vamping grooves that went on for minutes at a clip, punctuated by some neat slides and bends when least expected.
Their first number had the kind of infectuously funky sway that the MC5 were shooting for in their more soul-oriented moments but could never nail. Their second number motored along with a guitar-fueled shuffle that drew a line back to Chuck Berry, via the Stones or the Dead. Their even catchier next one had some heavy ba-BUMP-ba-BUMP low end courtesy of their percussionist, a petite brunette with an ear-to-ear grin who jumped around as she hammered out nimble leapfrog beats with her mallets on a single snare and a kickdrum. From there they made their way through an eerily reverberating Tobacco Road bounce, to a rousingly successful detour into Motown and then back to more side-to-side, swaying grooves. Bands like this make a trek on the J train on a nasty, raw night worth the hassle.
Mr. Kid & the Suicide Policemen are pretty new and have a brand-new name that’s better than their old one. It’s a good guess that they’ll probably have another by next month, which might explain why they don’t have a web presence – although they’ve got a little stuff at soundcloud. Their frontguy doesn’t sing as much as he rasps or does the soul-shout thing – but that’s cool because it fits the music. Right now their twin-guitar attack – roaring, reverb-drenched Fender Jazzmaster and riff-rocking Danelectro Rick copy – is more sonically interesting than their songs, but that will probably change. Like Needle Points, they have a thing for simple, catchy, incisive basslines. They kept things hard and direct, from their best song, a slowly unwinding paisley underground number with echoes of the Dream Syndicate, through louder, more garage-riff oriented material punctuated by the Fender player’s ferociously noisy attack.
As for the third group, Washington, DC’s Paperhaus…they’re the kind of band you really want to try to like. One of their guitarists linechecked with a verse of the Beatles’ Rain, always a good sign. But what they do just doesn’t gel. There were some tasty dreampop swells, some catchy basslines, and everyone in the band is a competent musician. They all probably have a future, just not together. It was too bad that the dreampop swirl so soon gave way to so many grandiosely empty Coldplay/Phoenix stadium gestures. And there were some distractingly dorky, mathrocky moments, and halfhearted attempts at something approximating humor.
A word about the venue: NICE PLACE. Asshole-free, laid-back, the sound isn’t Carnegie Hall but it isn’t ass either and the soundguy was very attentive to all the bands throughout their sets. In case you think that’s de rigeur at every venue, you haven’t been to Arlene’s lately. Now all they need is a website.