In the mid- to late '90s, the Make-up rightfully walked as royalty among the underground DIY kingdom a kingdom defined by the outer reaches of the imaginations of bands on Dischord, K, Touch & Go and other, sub-Sup Pop reluctant marketeers. With peers such as the Dub Narcotic Sound System and Brainiac goading them on, the Make-up brought the party to small clubs, squats, college-town co-op hotspots and other tabernacles off the mainstream map.
They made music like Love (as in "Arthur Lee and") gone down Nuggets lane with the JBs in tow. And if the music was love and peace, then frontman Ian Svenonius certainly brought the hair grease with his James Brown knee drops, Prince-ly squeals and preening preacher po' face. And live, man, did this unlikely hybrid shine. Crowds would lift Svenonious up so he cold walk on the hands of the masses literally. And he and the band would return the favor by making that very waking rock 'n' roll moment breathe with possibility. This was the Make-up "at power."
This live disc is taken from a 2000 set in the band's hometown of Washington, D.C. Recorded by the group's frequent live soundman, Brendan Canty (brother to Make-Up guitarist James Canty), the songs as captured here are as far from the above-cited perfect underground music storm as can be imagined. The jams are there, to be sure. The obtuse flower-power burnout of "I Am Pentagon" still ebbs and flows with half-serious incantations and Dungeon Master portent. "Every Baby Cries the Same" finds Svenonious and company weaving a tricky, cheeky-yet-heartbreaking distillation of the drippy pathos behind Elvis' "In the Ghetto" over the most spare of grooves. But Make-up shows are dependent on Svenonius gathering momentum, feeding off the crowd. That never happens here. There is some righteous speechifying. There are yelps to attempt to whip up that frenzy. (There's even a genuinely classic small moment when the frontman tries the same pre-song yelp a few times to hit just the right one.)
But a half-dozen years past their peak as indie scene prime movers, this captured moment serves neither the Make-up's legacy nor its chances at liberating the post-white-belted MySpace nation's booty well.
Chris Handyside writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail [email protected].