Story time: Indie rock with a plot

Robots Can't Fall In Love
SERP fraternity house
Friday, April 18


The rock opera, often decried as one of the foulest instruments of the prog-rock devil, has recently started to make a comeback-­ but in a decidedly different fashion than the bombastic (and at least partially musically unsuccessful) '70s outings of Rush, The Who, and the like.

Unlike their overblown cousins by marriage, this new breed of rock opera seems to be a combination of the indie-rock aesthetic and what might be termed Fiction Writing 101, creating albums of lo-fi serialized songs.

The Flaming Lips, the rock/pop/etc. band of animal stage suits and songs about intergalactic wars, has been at the forefront of this movement, especially since the release of the new album, Yoshemi Battles the Pink Robots (the title says it all).

It was only a matter of time before Charlottesville felt the Lips' wrath and spawned some neo-prog-rock of its own, and at the eclectic fraternity known as SERP Friday night, this is exactly what happened.

It was, I believe, the third ever public performance of "Robots Can't Fall In Love," a 45-minute sonic journey of guitar/drums/keyboard/computer, the brainchild of on-again, off-again Hook writer James Graham and Steve Nielsen. Nielsen and Graham were both in the now seemingly defunct Ones and Zeroes, the guitar/bass/drums rock outfit that was pretty much the SERP house band about a year ago.

Though the Ones and Zeroes were fun, the duo's new outing is a cut above, combining some great song writing with a plot straight out of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Though Graham and Nielsen switched off playing drums and guitar at different points in the show, a strategically placed Yamaha keyboard enabled Graham, the boy-wonder himself, to sometimes play chords on the synth with one hand and keep a solid varied beat with his other limbs.

Each song was introduced by a short monologue about what was happening in the story at that point– ranging from robot Alan, the principal character, destroying his robo-mate to being lost in space.

The two recently returned from a two (or three, that was never made quite clear) show national tour of sorts thanks to a quirky twist of fate, the group was scheduled to open for even quirkier indie-rock group Arlo in LA, but a stolen van (actually just towed by the local constabulary), an incident involving cheese inside the duo's computer, and a closed venue led to no public performances-­ but some exceedingly Spinal Tap moments, to say the least.

Graham and Nielsen are looking to combine visual footage to take the place of their explanatory monologues soon, in an effort to increase immersion. Other than possibly Tokyo Rose, the number of venues in this town ready for what soon could be called the Rock Opera Revolution is nil, but don't let that stop you-­ there is always SERP-­ the most indie-rock of frats, ready to accept you with open arms.

And there's always Jabberwocky or Coupe De Ville's, where they play with the frequency that Coran Capshaw buys restaurants.