My favorite songs usually never get me the first time around. And bands are kind of the same way with me.
On Saturday night, Oxford Collapse herded us like sheep at the sold-out Black Cat and proceeded to rock, spazz, joke and howl their way into my stern little heart. It was my first time seeing the band live, and while I had little doubt they would bring their famously blistering rock, I was secretly prepared for the band to be high on Brooklyn hipster lyrical irony, and low on the kind of heart found in bands who can weather the gauntlet of the music industry for more than a few buzz-surfing years.
As the trio took the stage, five minutes of disorder ensued. Then with a loud and jarring “Neighbors! Neighbors!” opening chant, Oxford Collapse jolted the audience stage-ward, compelling the crowd to zero in on them with an impressive sense of duty.
The band plowed through their set, featuring old favorites, along with new tunes off of the forthcoming Bits (released Aug. 5—-that’s tomorrow!). Between songs, they stopped only long enough to catch their breath. Frontman Mike Pace even had the boyish gall to openly berate a fan for the fashion faux pas of wearing the shirt of the band he was going to see. By the middle of their set, it was clear their strengths lay in Adam Rizer’s driving bass grooves overlaid with Pace’s jagged, crunchy, riffy guitar. Their songs switched gears at the drop of a dime, from spasmodic punk rock—-played in the kind of tumultuous lock-step that would compel DC’s earliest punk bands to croon “What a Wonderful World”—-to melodic lulls that were pretty in an understated way. All of this was peppered with Pace’s infectious yelps of “ooh hoo hoo!” and loud sing-along choruses fit for an arena.
The set’s highlights included “Electric Arc,” the opening track off of Bits, on which Pace and Rizer took turns repeatedly pleading: “I can’t remember things/I can’t remember things/I just don’t know what to do hoo hoo.” I felt little empathy the first time around. The fourth time around, I found myself anxiously entangled in the fray of this post-modern memory crisis, if only by sheer power of their award-winning, earnest delivery. The crowd pleaser of the night, however, was a brotherly beer-chugging number on which We Are Scientists’ Keith Murray guested. Before taking their leave, the band roared through “Please Visit Your National Parks,” best known for an inscrutably cute and strange video starring sheep on a farm and vintage cassette tapes.
It’s been said that Oxford Collapse was born of a joke. Certainly, music has every right to be downright fun, but it also ain’t a joke. It’s a tough balancing act that the Brooklyn boys of Oxford Collapse managed to pull off in ramshackle style, brandishing their equal parts charm and pure indie pop earnestness.