Four makes it right
It’s Tuesday night, arguably the slowest night of the week entertainment-wise, but, inside the Bistro, it’s packed. The band has a couple of things to do with that: it’s seven men strong; but more importantly, it knows what people want. They wanna groove.
The grooves laid down by Four didn’t sound nearly as cluttered as its seven-man roster might imply. Though it’s not spare or minimalist stuff by any means, the band leaves lots of space in its arrangements, demonstrating a taste for efficiency and an all-round knack for knowing what and when not to play. You’re just as likely to see an instrumentalist or two sitting a few to a dozen bars out (or even taking to the bar for refreshment) as you are to see the group firing on all seven cylinders.
Which isn’t to say they avoid every pothole on this trip, especially if this kind of thing isn’t your bag. Let it not be said that this neo-grooviness is on the outs with good old-fashioned postmodern pastiche/collage/whatever. It can be hard to find your sea legs when your captain’s a golem with blues rock legs, jazzbo brains, and a funk pelvis. Let’s not even get started on the audience, which looked like a frat mixer fresh from a magic bus field trip to a John Scofield concert MCed by Warren G. in Boulder, Colorado.
So while I swear to Medeski, Martin, and Wood that all this stuff is in here, Four doesn’t have to be as confusing as these mixed metaphors. Hearing what sounded suspiciously like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis intros and codas bookending jams sprinkled liberally with granola and funky mashed potatoes didn’t leave anyone in attendance looking especially perplexed. Unless dancing and playing air bass are signs of confusion.
With their knack for improv, and jazz manners that make for neat solo turns balanced by vocal tunes that can go from slow and soulful to crowd-pleasingly fun, they were the right band at the right place at the right time.
Though it might be about Charlottesville’s fabled tendency to suck people in (you know, kinda like a hook), “Gotta Get Out of Here,” from Wisher’s new CD, Rome Again, sounds like the kind of ambivalent ode to living, driving, and drinking (not necessarily in that order) in your smallish town that belongs to another era. With a sound that nicks riffs, harmonies, and more from the likes of Kiss, Aerosmith, Bowie, AC/DC, and Big Star, that era is the ‘70s.
Strangely, though, Wisher frequently marries the simple pleasures of FM to weird agitprop songs with forehead-smackin’ good, no-brainer, leftist politics. A toothless gummer like “Enemy,” a warm and fuzzy satire about the intellectual laziness of objectifying an evil Other is redeemed, sorta, by a fast delivery and even quicker rhymes. But the rapid fire litany of opposites— Arabs and Jews, Ishmael and Moby Dick— can’t stop the cringes induced by stabs at hip (“Niggas and honkies”) that might reference Curtis Mayfield and are definitely meant to be heard as risqué. It just sounds awkward.
On the mid-tempo “Stay Stupid,” ignorance as happiness gets critiqued, but they lay the sarcasm on so lightly you can barely taste it. Name-dropping Archie and Jughead doesn’t help things, nor do sincere but treacly lines like “If you’re not lost then you can’t be found.” “I Love L.A.” it’s not.
The clichéd, easy targets continue in “Doing It All for the Money.” Training your sights on sell-outs and money-grubbers is tricky territory, and at least a little hypocritical given your fans have to shell out cash, whether it’s for a show or a CD, to even hear the song. Maybe Wisher should be the target of projectile currency, but hearing a Charlottesville band turn down hundred dollar bills in a song in favor of drinking milkshakes in an alley is a punch that wouldn’t crack the glassiest of jaws.
Trying to solder lyrical tongue-in-cheek social critique to sleeve-worn musical influences, source material that never apologized for or tried to be more than what it was, leaves you dead in the water. And besides, even the recently departed Mr. Harrison’s “Taxman” sounds whiny. A band like Weezer knows that anything less than ramrod-straight posture sinks these sorts of ships, and Wisher’s songs sound bigger and better when they toe that line.
While they might not be breaking new ground when they erect tight and efficient three-to-four minute pop songs with simple Lincoln Log-chords and primary color building blocks of uncomplicated harmonies, on songs like “Girl from the Video Store” and “Nightgown” Wisher’s on friendly ground nonetheless. Familiar to fans of their live sets, they’re odes to unattainable girls and fantasies of attaining them. It’s simple but fertile fodder and leaves room for smart, positive sentiments.
“Elevators” and “Aether” stand out as well, though the turns aren’t as sharp, and corners are sanded down a bit. The pop-punk of “Girl from the Video Store,” with its cheeky harmonies, and the Big Star-esque nocturne of “Nightgown” are Wisher at its best, where form and content mix sugar and spice. If only it happened a bit more often, and they left the sour politics at home.
Wisher performs at the Outback Lodge with the Naked Puritans Friday, April 5. $6, 9pm.