Music for smart people

May 12, 2010 at 12:00 am

On Saturday, May 1, Michigan joined the ranks of 37 other civilized states in the U.S. of Fuckin' A. and gave a mittened middle finger to smoking in public places, including Detroit's numerous bars and music venues. This is all much to the delight of the Wonder Twins and other cancer-averse folks who hate doing laundry. And this past Saturday night, May 8, the Wonder Twins headed to the Berkley Front, a much loved but poorly ventilated venue, to get their smoke-free Modernlull on!

D'Anne: This was our very first show since the passage of the Dr. Ron Davis Smoke-Free Air Law that prohibits smoking in most public places in Michigan.

Laura: A law whose time has come. But who is Dr. Ron Davis? Why does he get a law named after him?

D'Anne: Apparently he was a member of the U-M School of Public Health faculty, an American Medical Association past president, and a longtime advocate for smoke-free air and healthy eating.

Laura: Oh. I guess that's acceptable. But I think there would've been less public grumbling if they had called it the "Dr. Feelgood Smoke-Free Air Law." Then their tag line could've been, "It's the law they call Dr. Feelgood. It's the law that's gonna make you feel alright." See? That's catchy.

D'Anne: Either that or they could've named the law after Bette Davis, and used an iconic image of her with her cigarette brushed out as their logo. That would have been classy.

Laura: Regardless, I'd been counting down the days until the smoking ban went into effect and was so excited to experience a smoke-free show that I couldn't help but fear that the whole ban was a terrible practical joke. Like I'd get there and everybody would put their cigarettes out on my hand. And laugh.

D'Anne: Well, we were in Berkley, and if Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson had had has his way, then that could very well have happened. You'd have had to wear gloves to future Oakland County shows. Thick, flame-retardant ones.

Laura: L. Brooks Patterson is 70 years old, but even he figured this one out and reversed himself. It's like he was stuck in the Mad Men days where even your doctor smoked. While you were in his office. Getting a prostate exam. Cough, cough. Get it?

D'Anne: Good one. Happy as I am about the ban, it was weird no one was smoking at the show. It gave the evening a kind of high school dance feel. And as usual, no one asked me to slow dance.

Laura: Speaking of high school dances, the attire of the first band had a definite thrift store dress-up quality. Like they'd just bought their clothes at Mother Fletchers and were the house band at a hipster high school homecoming.

D'Anne: That band would be Pink Lightning. I don't know a lot about them, other than that I'm pretty sure they're local. And they have a very skinny accordion player who was wearing vertically striped pants, which made his legs virtually disappear.

Laura: When we got there, Pink Lightning had just started playing. Their music reminded me a lot of Talking Heads meets the Rapture.

D'Anne: The Rapture, the band, or the rapture as in when God plucks all of the true Christians off the earth and vomits blood and fire on the rest of us?

Laura: Actually, I meant the 1986 multi-platinum Anita Baker album, Rapture.

D'Anne: Oooh! "Sweet Love" is the ultimate smooth jam. In your face, Sade!

Laura: The next band was Ghost World.

D'Anne: That would be Ghost Heart. Ghost World is a graphic novel-turned-Scarlett Johansson indie-flick. But nice try.

Laura: I love that movie.

D'Anne: Well I loved the band. I'd never heard of them before and am happy to report that seeing Ghost Heart was one of those rare times when I leave a show super excited about a band previously unknown to me.

Laura: That's fantastic. You still owe me $8 for that Ghost Heart T-shirt.

D'Anne: And I said I'll pay you back. What, you didn't like them?

Laura: They were good. I'm just a little tired of this "Everybody in the band is the drummer! Bang away!" thing. It feels like it's just an excuse so nobody actually has to learn to play the drums.

D'Anne: But they had a timpani.

Laura: I do give them props for lugging a timpani all the way from Grand Rapids.

D'Anne: Well, I give them props for being awesome. They reminded me a little of Animal Collective and Vampire Weekend, only with more heart.

Laura: I wish they would've played a Heart song. Even a later-era hit like "Nothing At All" would have rocked.

D'Anne: Agreed. Their set was only four songs long. And during the intro to their first song, it totally sounded like they were going to bust into "Eye of the Tiger." Some '80s cover songs could help flesh out their set.

Laura: What was up with the bike wheel? I saw them using it as a percussive instrument. But I also think it was their way of protesting Detroit's lack of a robust public transportation system.

D'Anne: I'm sure they would have biked from Grand Rapids to Detroit if it weren't for that damn timpani!

Laura: Yes. Timpanis hold a band back from going green.

D'Anne: Too bad there's no such thing as an inflatable timpani. That would solve all of our ecological problems.

Laura: Between sets, DJ Braddems rocked the house with some musical delights.

D'Anne: DJ Braddems, aka Brad Elliott, Modernlull's drummer, had some mad DJ skills. He also has a killer beard. 

Laura: So true. Modernlull closed out the evening. It was the first time I'd seen them since Blowout.

D'Anne: And the first time I had ever seen them. Wow, there are a lot of people in that band. They're like Detroit's Broken Social Scene.

Laura: Not quite, but there are six people in the band. They have a smart, sophisticated pop sound that reminds me of Crowded House and a bit of Dan Bejar of Destroyer and New Pornographers renown.

D'Anne: They sounded really great — I especially liked the song where he repeatedly said, "Wash your mouth before you say my name." Mainly because I'm a big proponent of oral hygiene.

Laura: Me too. Flossing ain't no joke.

D'Anne: The two women in the band, Abbey and Melissa, had just gotten their master's degrees. So the band was celebrating that accomplishment at the show.

Laura: This totally backs up my feeling that Modernlull is music for smart people.

D'Anne: They should allow audience members to turn in a short thesis about the band at the door to avoid the cover charge.

Laura: It's usually by the time the last band has played at the Berkley Front that I can feel my eyes start to burning and my lungs giving up. So it was weird to still feel really great at the end of Modernlull's set!

D'Anne: And you missed that lousy feeling by the end, didn't you?

Laura: So badly. After the show, I went outside and lit a garbage can on fire so I could stand over the flaming filth and breathe it in. Sweet, sweet carcinogens ...

D'Anne: I don't think that's something even Dr. Feelgood would approve of.

D'Anne and Laura are music critics for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]