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Vice Tour 2004: Death From Above 1979, Panthers, Vietnam

The Panthers
Death From Above 1979
@ Rothko, December 4, NYC

Hipsters are easy. Get enough of them together and feed them enough shitty beer, and you can convince them of pretty much anything. A year ago they were wearing trucker hats, for fuck’s sake. But hipsters are also fickle. Once they catch a whiff of a fashion, band or bar becoming remotely mainstream, they are drawn to the next “shiny” object. Peddling culture to these ambassadors of New York City cool is a dicey proposition, but Vice is trying its hand at becoming the go-to destination for the Next Cool Thing.

But Vice Records seems to have hit upon two things that make it work. One: As long as the band has a “look” (translation: one of its male members looks like a girl) and there is at least one song that will make the girls dance, the hipsters will come. Two: You can find your band of the moment, but discovering a band whose music will outlast the Diesel shirts and cowboy boots is the key for making a label tick.

This fall, Vice sent three of their bands on a 26-date tour, presumably to present the “Vice Sound” to the world outside of New York. Friday’s headlining band, Death From Above 1979, is the Vice ambassador most likely to reach a world outside of the hipsteratti. Aside from the fact that DFA79 are writing pop songs, albeit really fucking heavy pop songs, the band also stood out at New York’s Rothko show because they were the only band to attract a non-hipster-centric crowd.

Before DFA1979 took the stage, there was an influx of very suspicious-looking kids in the crowd. The Toronto-based duo exploded on the stage rocking a bass, a synth, a set of drums, a porn moustache, and some serious bangs. With the declaration of the title of their fantastically named Vice debut, You’re A Woman, I’m a Machine, the slam dancing began. As the twee hipsters fled the front of the stage, no longer able to simply bob their heads to the music and look ironically intrigued, a rock show erupted in front of DFA79. During the single, “Romantic Rights,” singer/drummer Sebastien Grainger emerged from his drum kit, while a member of the audience jumped on stage to fill in. Grainger launched an all out physical, lyrical, and verbal assault on the rioting audience. It is staggering the amount of noise two people can make onstage, and the bands’ overflow of memorable hooks is all the more remarkable coming entirely from a bass guitar.

Leading into DFA79’s set were Brooklyn’s the Panthers. Performing in the light from a film projector, the Panthers set the stage for the second half of the night, bringing gimmick-free heavy and politically tinged rock to the bill. Sounding like everything from MC5 to Wire, the Panthers proclaimed, “We aren’t a band, we’re a vandalist committee with stenciled faces and bloody lips/ Align or die.” While the Panthers didn’t project a very strong sound of their own, the not-so-hidden agenda inspired belief in the band.

Vietnam is where Vice’s roster fails; they just don’t rock. Considering singer/guitarist Michael William proudly declared, “we’re just a bunch of hippies,” that’s not really surprising. A group of Vietnam friends dressed like gypsies gathered at the front of the stage and whooped and played tambourines. Unless you’re Cher, dressing like a gypsy isn’t cool. And Vietnam is tragically uncool. I’m sure they would tell you that they have no interest in being cool, which would be fine, if they had good songs, clever lyrics, or interesting melodies. But they don’t. The general feeling in the crowd away from the stage seemed to be annoyance, which only built during the band’s final six-minute song.

The hipster divide that occurred during Vietnam’s set is exactly what Vice Records has to address in order to stay viable and relevant in the upcoming years. You might be able to convince all those crazy kids dressed up like gypsies that the music is good, but if the rest of the world isn’t buying it, it’s not going to leave New York City. The “Vice Sound” is presumably the sound of the future of Cool New York, which is something that is, by its very design, fleeting. The impressionable hipsters danced to Vietnam and left. The rest of the crowd moved in closer for the Panthers. Those brave enough to stay with the rockers for DFA79 threw themselves into the melee at the front of the stage while the rest stood in the back to get the full view of what a truly great rock band can breed.