Friday, March 14, 2008

The Runners Up/ The Shabelles; March 14, 2008; High Noon Saloon

Even though the Runners Up have been a band for more than two years, they just got around to releasing their first CD. And it was worth the wait. Their self-titled release contains 14 songs and lasts just a little more than half an hour, but it is a ridiculously entertaining thirty minutes. The songs should be familiar to anyone who has seen the Runners Up more than once; in fact several of the songs had a life before RU. Tonight’s set opener and the first song on the record “James Brown with Two Heads” was an Aunt Goodness (Erika Lozier’s alter ego) song before the band even existed. A dual headed Godfather of Soul is meant as the ultimate compliment after other comparisons fall short, because “you guys are better than that.”

In fact, they could just as easily been talking about themselves the charming dual lead combination of Lozier and Bob Koch. Her voice has a sassy edge that reminds me of the short list of other girl singers I like (The Reputation’s Elizabeth Elmore and Rainer Maria’s Caithlin DeMarrais are comparisons I’ve used in the past), while his curiously high voice compliments hers surprisingly well. In addition to “James Brown,” her other winning contributions include “Spelling Bee” and “Red Faced,” both of which have a sweet, real-life feel to them. Koch has his own true story, “Vandalized Regal,” which finds him growing increasingly paranoid after his car was vandalized outside of Mickey’s. “Do I have to watch my back, should I fear a sneak attack?” he wonders. For the doubters, there is a picture of the damage on the back cover of the CD. His “Missouri,” with its clever chorus of “you’re in Missouri and I’m in misery,” had to be a holdover from the Super Eights whose songs about states were a good part of their charm.

For most of the set bassist James Leaver only needs a microphone to call for shots of vodka and to contribute backing vocals. Boyishly enthusiastic and completely adorable, his love of playing is apparently only matched by his recently realized love of Tito’s vodka. Starting most sets with a shot makes his “He’s a Holic” (as in alcoholic I believe) somewhat ironic. I’ve always enjoyed his song, but for some reason this is the first time I noticed how much it sounds like an Elvis Costello song (according to everyone else in my group, I’m the last one to notice). From his resonant voice to a tune reminiscent of “Angels Want to Wear my Red Shoes” and “Radio Radio,” the resemblance is striking. And that is quite a compliment indeed.

Equally entertaining are the Shabelles, Adam Schabow’s quirkily intriguing outfit. I was disappointed that their energetic anchor drummer Daphna Ron was absent, but her replacement was impossible to find fault with. He won me over by starting the set with a public service announcement stating his availability to fill in for any drummer who needs a break. His list of credentials had me convinced he could in fact fill in for anyone. The Shabelles set of favorites started off with my favorite, the happy-sounding sad story “Riding my Bike.” Slowed down and reworked with a jazzy feel, this version makes better use of Ropin’ Rodeo Nate’s sax talent. In fact they seemed to have worked on a lot of things since the last time I saw them, the songs were tighter and the harmonies even better than usual. They even added a cover I hadn’t heard them do before, the Violent Femmes “I Held Her in My Arms,” a perfect choice for a band that has been perfecting their own unique brand of pop punk for awhile now.

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