This past Sunday, and it would seem, the Sunday before and before that, former Vice President Dick Cheney made the round table rounds, spreading his signature cheer, trenchant analysis and Strangelovian fellowship. He shared a few jokes, he defended his record, he preached transparency, he enhanced interrogation. But he wasn't all kittens and rainbows. We're less safe now than under his watch, he warned. His evidence was the face-melting grin emanating from a million screens nationwide.
If Dr. Evil keeps this up, he just might make the Living Things relevant again.
And this band of Creve Coeur-raised brothers (once Jason, Justin and Josh Rothman, now Lillian, Eve and Bosh Berlin), plus guitarist Cory Becker (also from St. Louis), yearns for rock relevance: the kind, as legend has it, a young Jason sought while waiting for Axl Rose to get out of post-riot St. Louis court so he could score an autograph; the kind critics pronounced when the band's best record, Black Skies in Broad Daylight, was released in the UK in 2004; the kind the band captured in the still deadly single "Bom Bom Bom"; the kind you don't often get on a Monday night at Off Broadway.
70 paid isn't a miserable number for a school night, but it's not the turnout a relatively recent Top 40 modern rock band should command in its hometown. The crowd was an affable mix of dance floor babes, regular college rock bros, old timers like myself, and Mr. and Mrs. Becker, the parents of Cory. None of them paid much mind to the listless alt-rock of openers Nothing Still, but the mood in room was friendly and anticipatory. The Living Things don't work their home turf very often.
After overture music courtesy of Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up," the ten-song set opened with the fuzz boogie of "Brass Knuckles," the first song on Habeas Corpus, setting a loud, fast and warmly engaged tone for the night. "It's a pleasure to be back in St. Louis," Lillian called out. Lillian's Mick Jagger by way of Tina Turner hip shake, Cory's tightly compressed guitar chops, and the rhythm section's steady anchoring suggested the band was in a heavy groove-centric mood.
There would be no preaching to the choir, no dollar bills burned, no stunts of any kind, just a few toasts to the hometown, just one hard and focused and catchy rock song after another. "Mercedes Marxist" bled into "Bom Bom Bom," into "Oxygen" into recent single "Let It Rain." Only before "Snake Oil Man," the weakest song of the night, did Lillian state the obvious: "This song goes out to Dick Cheney." The dedicatee was unavailable for comment, but he's heard it all before. It's not that politics can't rock; it's just that it rarely does under the weight of Moveon.org-like exertion.
Bosh Berlin's precise and spirited drumming can just about save any song, though the excellent closing quartet of "I Owe," "Cost of Living," "Post-Millenium Extinction Blues" and "Bombs Below," hardly needed saving. There would be no encore, and Lillian knew it, fleeing the stage for the green room with the look of a man who had just seen his own ghost put on a very good, consistently charismatic rock show and receive only the faintest of responses in return.