How'd you miss them?
1. The Grates at Pianos, long version
If you were say, 7 years-old and you just moved to some rural town, the kid you'd most want to see peering through your fence is the gangly, grinning Patience Hodgson of The Grates. Granted, she's the lead singer of a Rock & Roll band and not a child, but much of her charm as a performer is that quality of enthusiasm and instant familiarity that marks the best kind of friends and conspirators you can meet and love early in life. Mischievous eyes, humorous rambling anecdotes, jumping around like her flats had springs; she's a veritable indie rock Pippy Longstocking. She is so winning that the folks at their Pianos show, many of them clearly seeing The Grates for the first time, had a delighted and stunned look of "I love her!" Like any good welcoming committee, Hodgson made sure to shine the spotlight on her equally down-to-earth co-Grates throughout the night, whether it was by waxing rhapsodic about drummer Alana Skyring's puppy dog expressions or guitarist John Patterson's excellent pantomime of a drunken couple making out. The Grates wanted to you to be their friends and I loved that the audience (mostly) acquiesced.
But what about the music? Well, I had heard their debut album, Gravity Won't Get You High, and wasn't quite won over. It sounded muddy and unfinished in a way that wouldn't hold up to repeated listens. But when you only have one record to base your opinions on, I think the real clincher is the live show. In this case, I am so glad I put my misgivings aside. Take for example, their song Sukkafish, which on record has a bleating repetitiveness, was totally transformed live. It had a larger, more majestic sound. Hodgson's vocals rang out over the repetitions, which instead of being tinny, grew and grew in grandeur until the song had the quality of a triumphant traditional. Like a marching song or to those indie types who don't know what the hell I mean, something like Rise by Public Image Ltd? I figured if they could take a song I felt kinda bleh about on record and make me reconsider my opinion, how will I feel about the worthier numbers? Things looked promising.
Lone guitarist (and occasional harmony vocalist) Patterson handled the dynamics expertly, mostly by not sticking to straight guitar lines and switching frequently to guitar as bass low end parts that make songs like 19 20 20 less like straight garage punk and more like dance pop. Frequently with drum/guitar/vocals trios*, the arrangements get ho-hum but their set list was well ordered and the changes seemed organic and not awkward. Skyring stomps away with a look of determination that's hilariously at odds with her cutie pie face; all bowl cut bob, chubby red cheeks and brown button eyes. As stated previously, Hodgson doesn't have anything to worry about on the charisma front. Given her ridiculous amount of magnetism she could easily get away with squawking like a parrot, the audience would still adore her. She doesn't though; her voice is way more malleable and impressive live than on the album. It goes from quasi operatic soprano to punky shriek to something pleasantly pop-like in between depending on the song. Hodgson sings her lyrics, goofy socio-sexual observations with a child-like slant (lots of commands and goodbyes,) with quivering feeling. And since those feelings aren't of the overly earnest sort, that theatrical sincerity doesn't...well, grate**. She's cheeky and clever but her delivery lets you know that she's fully aware that her sentiments might be a little misguided. In that sense she's kind of like a female foil to that other wry proto-music hall star, Eddie Argos. Wow. What a duet that would make.
My favorite moment of the night was when Hodgson, admittedly doing something she does every night, asked the crowd to part for her, "Like Moses and the Red Sea." She covered her face with her hands, asked her bandmates,"Did they?" and when they replied in the negative, came out and divided that Pianos audience in half by pushing everyone one way or the other, peppering her activity with chipper sorries. After she had her middle swath, she took her microphone stand, planted it in the crowd and sang the ballad Rock Boys while un-spooling a pink gymnast ribbon over the audience’s head in slow moving ripples. Something about the way the lights hit, the faces of the people surrounding her, some lost in it, some looking terrified at possibly being hit by fabric, Patterson and Skyring onstage smiling away, was so lovely that it transcended the stage schtick. In fact, when the guitar and drums went into their big churn in the middle break, and Hodgson just danced, around and around with her ribbon, it was quietly transcendent. I completely forgot I was in a bar. I was reminded why I go to rock shows. To have those moments where you move to music as if nobody’s looking and there's nothing more perfect.
Start Her Up
Lies (Are Much More Fun)
Feels Like Pain
19 20 20
Science is Golden
2. The Grates at Pianos, short version
The Grates put on a superb live show. Patience Hodgson could sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. Run, don't walk, to see them when they come to your town. Befriend them on My Space.
3. Other takes on that show
Merry Swankster (Jeff K. Swankster has ribbon footage! And a new mate!)
Lost at E Minor
Fiddle While You Burn
* There was an additional keyboardist on hand who would sneak on and offstage throughout the set for a song or two. His playing was much like his stage presence: stealthy.
** Sorry folks. You knew the bad pun would rear its ugly head.
Band to see live: The Grates
Song to seek: Lies are much more fun