Usually, when an employee leaves a company, it’s either bitter or sweet, not a combination of the two. But the case of my buddy Sarah Lewitinn‘s departure from Spin earlier this year, bucked that trend. I lost my next-cube neighbor and a fellow musical soul-dier (look, I referenced the Killers!); I never thought I’d miss her blaring C+C Music Factory ringtone, the one that would invariably go off at full volume when she was out picking up another Red Bull, but now I get all misty anytime I hear “Gonna Make You Sweat.” So that’s the bitter part. The sweet part, and we’re talking chilled-Sparks-spiked-with-a-handful-of-Splenda sweet, is that Ms. Lewitinn — Ultragrrrl if you’re nasty — left us to launch her own little record label, Stolen Transmission.
On Wednesday night, Sarah officially gave birth to Stolen Transmission at New York’s Rothko with a few hundred rock’n’roll midwives in tow. Three bands, and their accompanying Stolen Transmission singles, fell out of her body part that rhymes with bagina, to borrow her terminology. As another blog entry (whose source I cannot recall) reminded me this week, a year ago Sarah was pimping another little party at Rothko featuring another fairly unknown band: those pesky Killers. People seem to have learned to pay attention; the joint was slammed.
On the bill: the Five O’Clock Heroes, the Spinto Band, and Nightmare of You. I missed Nightmare of You, the first band, but heard lots of good things. The Spinto Band really floored me, though. At times, the sextet from Wilmington, Delaware — a Band to Watch in the August issue of Spin — was a supercharged, precocious version of the Flaming Lips. In other moments, they were Pulp, as if reared in American suburbs. And elsewhere, it seemed they’d listened heavily to jam bands for several years, only to one day rashly decide to burn their Phish tees and Birkenstocks (while subconsciously retaining some of the genre’s playful nuances). Combined, these elements made for one of my favorite first glimpses of a band in some time. For their most quirky and innovative trick, the band’s Jon Eaton and Thomas Hughes produced awkward looking kazoo holders constructed from heavy gauge wire. But for “Oh Mandy,” the gleeful single out on Stolen Transmission, Hughes and Nick Krill team up for a glib paean that sounds like Malkmus and Frank Black collaborating on a Ric Ocasek-produced pop classic.
Speaking of ’80s pop, I’ll admit that the first thing that popped into my head when I saw the Five O’Clock Heroes a few months ago was Rick Springfield. I wondered if Rick had spread his seed while roaming the globe, siring four lads with all of Dad’s good looks and effortless sex appeal. But instead of child support, he sent their moms records by the Clash, Generation X, Fleetwood Mac, and Cheap Trick. And sure, you’d see them once, hear them play “Stay the Night,” and you’d agree with me. Repeated live listens — I’ve had two so far — reveal something a lot deeper at work. I found myself latching harder onto the Clash-like, ska-tinged “Anyone Home” and the R&B inflected “White Girls” (their Stolen Transmission single). Those might not make the girls swoon like the Heroes’ straight ahead staples like “Run to Her” and U.K. single “Head Games,” but they are prime indications that further efforts should be increasingly compelling. That’s not to say the ladies don’t love this band invariably. They do. Lots. But unlike several other cosmetically appealing acts of our day, the dudes will totally tolerate the Heroes’ brand of pin-up power pop.
But the real lady to love at Rothko was none other than lil’ Ultra. As our people say, she’s gone from strength to strength. We also say, “Mazel tov.”