Dengue Fever And Exit Clov At Black Cat, March 1, 2008

The local fan base Exit Clov has built is staggering. I always admired the band for their relentless self-promotion — the constant local gigging, passing out fliers and free CDs on street corners — but I only recently realized how effective the effort has been. Buried in as the second of four bands at a show at the Rock & Roll Hotel on Feb. 1, I was surprised by the push to the front and the moving bodies this band inspired (not that they don’t deserve it, just that local acts don’t usually generate such buzz prior to getting national attention). On Saturday, there was, again, a strong Exit Clov crowd as they opened for Dengue Fever at the Black Cat. Those fans are just in their allegiance, but some of them demonstrated a stubborn indifference that serves them poorly. After Exit Clov’s set, I overheard several clusters of their fans debate whether to stay for the headliner. Most of the people involved in these conversations spoke about knowing nothing about Dengue Fever. I tried to will them to stay and learn. Judging from the leaner room when the headliner took the stage, my mind powers failed — or are insignificant.

Live, Dengue Fever didn’t quite match their records. Some organ, saxophone and guitarist Zac Holtzman’s picking were able to recreate some of the Eastern sounds and Ethiopian jazz, but it was largely a ’60s psychedelic garage rock sound, heavy on surf rock. A lot of it sounded like it should show up on a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. Still, it was an impressive performance. This band weaves various influences — those already mentioned and others like jazz fusion and Bollywood — and sounds authentic, more retro than retro. Singer Chhom Nimol was adorable and in great voice, and her stage presence was as sweet as Selena — at least how Jennifer Lopez portrayed Selena on screen. I’ll admit to knowing nothing about Selena before the biopic. (Cred check: It was on cable and it starred Jennifer “Bosoms” Lopez and I fell asleep halfway through and had to ask someone later that night how Selena was actually killed.) Though the band is touring in support of a record just a few weeks old, “Venus on Earth,” they didn’t focus too much on that material. One highlight was “Pow Pow,” a Ros Serey Sathea cover from their self-titled debut LP, that started out with a burst of punk energy. The lyrics were mostly sung in Nimol’s native Khmer, but judging from the new record, that’s a smart move. Many of the English lyrics on that album seem trite. It’s the one knock on the album, which sounds great. I just prefer it when I don’t know what she’s singing about. One exception is “Sober Driver,” a simple tune about a girl who only calls a guy when she needs a ride and about how the guy is starting to think she might not be worth it, or at least that he’s worth more. Holtzman — sporting the fakest looking real beard I’ve ever seen — and Nimol shared the vocals on that one and the other English-language song with passable lyrics, “Tiger Phone Card.” Those “Venus on Earth” cuts where overshadowed by the album’s first track, “Seeing Hands,” a brilliant, haunting number with a steady groove. The best moment, though, was when the ever-saccharine Nimol pulled two audience members on stage to sing “I’m Sixteen” — another Sathea cover from the self-titled record — with her in Khmer.

For their part, Exit Clov was as good as ever. They keep things mixed up, not playing cookie-cutter versions of their songs. They embellish the songs sometimes, hold back and leave more space at others. While the set didn’t copy the Rock and Roll Hotel show of a month earlier, it did include the same “DIY,” “MK Ultra” and “Moving Gaza” progression late. But it wasn’t a copy, either. They dragged out the intro to “MK Ultra,” which concluded with a somewhat unexpected but welcome and encouraging roar from the crowd (check out the video here), and the post-punk “Moving Gaza” closed with a heavier finish. And I also noted that the band used more violin this time around, giving it more chamber pop moments, which they execute so very well. The band’s seamless blend of rock, post-rock, jazz, neo-post-punk/nü wave, prog and pop was on perfect display. It’s that kind of ear for music that probably leads them to such bills as Dengue Fever.

So I wish Exit Clov luck as they head on the road toward SXSW, and I’m confident they will perk some ears in Austin, in anticipation of their first, and overdue, I’d say, LP. So if you haven’t familiarized yourself with this band, check ’em out when the come home to Iota on March 22. And if you are familiar, don’t leave so quickly when they open for another band — Exit Clov has good taste and they can show you a thing or two you probably weren’t expecting.


One Response

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