Gig Review

Presidents Of The United States Of America
Plus Elf Power, Devoshka
London, Astoria
20th May 2006

Presidents Of USA    Elf Power       Devoshka

The Presidents of the United States of America.
The epitome of fun-filled rock I do believe. I was wetting myself with excitement at the prospect of seeing them, as not only do I think they're incredible, but I was also aware about the moderate rarity of their shows over here in England.

We got to the Astoria for when the tickets said doors would be opening, and, well, nobody was there. A distinct lack of queue. We scoured our tickets to ensure we were in the right place at the right time. Absolutely. Well okay then.

Above the door was one of those old fashioned things you'd find at old cinemas, where they display their upcoming shows, but with no digital fanciness. Oh no. (Even though just across the road were sleek fountains, and a MASSIVE statue and screens advertising the musical “We Will Rock You.”) Just good old “someone has to climb up there and attach the relevant letters.” The Presidents had their name in big writing, and beneath it, were some other bands, including Catatonia. Now, did this mean Catatonia were supporting the Presidents? This amused me somewhat. My companions however, were less humoured.

So we went into the empty building, via the empty queue line, up the empty stairs to the cloakroom. The interior was generously decorated with black paint. For some unknown reason. But it made the place feel less like a big London venue, and more like a tacky local gig you might find yourself at one evening

Anyway, dump stuff in the cloakroom, and head into the main room. Surprise surprise; it's empty as well. We abused this emptiness, and found ourselves a nice spot at the very front, on the railing. Brilliant. Upon the stage was a vast array of unusual instruments, and the odd roadie scuttling by at the rear of the stage. I turned and leaned on the bar and looked around the room. There were seats in an upstairs area above where we had walked in, making the room a lot bigger. The room was an odd shape really, where we were standing, was far wider than it was deep, and the room somehow felt elliptical. But that's not really important. It had the vitals, a stage, an area for a crowd, and a few bars.
The first band came on, without us really knowing. I couldn't catch their name, it was Devoshka or something. Needless to say, it wasn't Catatonia. But I wish I HAD remembered the name, because to be fair, they were awesome. It seemed that, it was them who were responsible for the odd instruments. Accordions, huge brass contraptions, and, my particular favourite, a theremin. (It's a box with an antenna, and a sound is achieved by moving your hand closer and nearer the antenna. It's genius really, and I'd never seen one used live.) They were a four or five piece, I can't remember, consisting of drummer, singer/guitar/banjo/theremin, accordion/trumpet player, and a well built woman who took control of the huge brass instrument that has no name, and the double bass.

They were kind of, latin in feel I'd say. With fast-paced songs with stamping galore, and slow whiny songs you'd imagine someone old man singing in an Italian alleyway, after an afternoon on the wine. But their talent was unbelievable, and they really played a good set. To say I was enjoying myself was an understatement. And the front man's accuracy with his playing of the theremin; fantastic. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, in the final song, he was there strumming away on his electric banjo type thing, and using the neck of it to play the theremin! Oh dear LORD, you my friend, are a genius.

The second band, well, hmmm. Another totally irrelevant genre to throw into the Presidents gig, but well, we'll go along with it. They were country, similar to a band like Lonestar or something, but not as good. (You could argue that PUSA are country rock, but no, this was different, trust me.) They were called Elf Power. The kind of band I'd naively class as “yee-hah music.” All the band-members dressed up in checkered shirts stolen from the local Sheriff's office. You know how it is.

I didn't really get into their set. They played their instruments reasonably well, but the songs just didn't seem to get anywhere. They went on and on and all sounded very alike. And his irritating “yee-hah voice” annoyed me in between songs; “Gee, thanks folks.”

And when they DID attempt a bit of oomph, (just the once I'll add,) it went miserably wrong. I don't know what went on. But everything was out of time and everyone's parts didn't go together. I'm not sure really, but I know I turned round to my friends with one of those “What the fuck mate” expressions.

I wasn't sad to see them leave, partly because I wasn't enjoying their set, and partly because I knew who were on next. There was a hardcore Presidents fan to the right of me, who had seen them up in Birmingham the night before. Fair play.

And so once all the sound-crew had pissed off, on came the drummer, Jason. A wave to the crowd, followed by guitarist Andrew and vocal/bassist, Chris. Huge cheers.

Andrew and Chris jumped into the air in unison, upon landing, played a single note, matched with a crash from Jason. And then silence. They stood on the spot and looked around confused. Then they did it again. And again. And then, on the fourth time, the single note transformed into the intro for Video Killed The Radio Star. Hooray!

They played all their best songs. And excuse me for not remembering the order, but I was enjoying myself too much.

Expert executions of Zero Friction, Highway Forever, Some Postman, Love Everybody, Drool At You, and Jennifer's Jacket; and off of their earlier albums, Lump, Peaches, Back Porch, Kitty, Dune Buggy, Boll Weevil, Tiki God, Volcano and Froggy.

For one song, they invited on stage some “cockney geezer.” One of their Uncles I think? And they played a song called I Want To Destroy You.
“In a nice way,” added the older gentleman.

For those of you that don't know, Chris plays a two-string bass, and looked like he was enjoying himself. White shirt and tie, and a polished head. The guitarist, Andrew, was just constantly grinning. Good to see them still enjoying themselves. I couldn't really see Jason, hidden up behind his drum kit, but he was there, beaming.

During one of their songs, Andrew and Chris wrapped themselves round one another and played each others instruments, while they were still wearing their own one, if that makes sense?

At the end of the set, they all strolled off, and Jason smacked Chris's arse. I see.

But nowadays, come on, who goes off and doesn't play an encore? Nobody. Exactly. So of course they came back on. “Presidents! Presidents! Presidents!”

They broke into We're Not Gonna Make It, however, had a little break down where Chris explained the history of the band. You know, them getting together and splitting up and all that. The twist? He said it all at an unbelievable pace, and fitted it all into about ten seconds, and ending the song with “Looks Like We Made It!”
Yes guys. You have.

For their next song Body, (with the main line being “I can't get your body out of my mind,”) they dragged two long pieces of red fabric onto the stage, hanging from the ceiling, and brought a girl on stage. She was one of those dancers, you know, who climb up the fabric and hang themselves into weird positions. You know? They have some on BBC in between programs, when they're explaining what's on next. You MUST know? Ah well, that's the best I can do. So while they were playing away, she was twenty-five foot above them tying herself up. Interesting.

For a final song, Kick Out The Jams. However, half way through, they broke into Lulu's “Shout!” and then it was audience-participation time. We all had to take a step back, and then squat down. Everyone did it, it was quite funny to watch and be part of. Then Chris would say some words and we had to shout them back. However it soon turned to novelty noises, and just weird sounds. Ha. But then, back on our feet, a final chorus of Kick Out The Jams, and that was it. They left. This time with no arse-smack, and no reappearance.

What a fantasmic gig. And thanks to it, I have the chorus of Volcano stuck in my head for weeks to come, which annoyed just about everyone. Mwa-ha-ha. :)

Review by Thom

 Presidents Of USA

Chris Ballew (vocals, basitar)
Jason Finn (drums, vocals )
Andrew McKeag (guitbass, vocals)
 Elf Power

Andrew Rieger (vocals and guitar)
Jimmy Hughes (Guitar)
Derek Almstead (Bass)
Eric Harris (Drums)
Laura Carter (Keys, Guitar, Accordian)
Heather McIntosh (Cello, Keys)
Josh Lott (Drums)

Nick Urata (Vocals, Guitars, Piano, Trumpet, theremin, Bouzouki)
Tom Hagerman (Violin, Accordian, Piano)
Jeanie Schroder (Sousaphone, Upright Bass, Vocals)
Shawn King (Drums, Percussion, Trumpet)
 Band Related Links
Presidents Of USA Myspace
Devotchka Myspace
Elf Power Myspace
 Review Score Code
- Top Cheese
- Brilliant
- Pretty damn good
- Ok I guess
- What Was That?