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I haven’t seen Chad Clark onstage since Smart Went Crazy was writing Con Art, so I was kind of surprised to see Beauty Pill‘s Grateful Dead lineup last night at Fort Reno. That’s right, two guitarists, a bassist, a keyboardist, and—this never gets old—two drummers. That’s a lot of musicians to play some indie-tinged art-punk (or is it art-punk-tinged indie rock?), and, well, they put them to good use, even if there was nothing particularly hippie about it. At one point Clark had to explain that he wasn’t being sarcastic when he told the audience, “I love you.” And the band finished with a song about how pacifism isn’t always the answer. Which is why I find this band is so excellent. There’s no doubt that Clark meant the “I love you” bit, but his lyrics have such a sharp—and, yes, sarcastic—edge that it would be easy to take him the wrong way. And, shit, who else in D.C. is going to get up on stage at Fort Reno and say that, well, sometimes reason and negotiation fail us and we have to use force? (That is, aside from a State of Alert reunion, but I don’t think the fights in those songs were preceded by reason or negotiation.)

The band chugged on through the rain, playing songs that I don’t recognize, because I’ve never heard any of their records. (Service ain’t what it was back in the Meltzer-and-Bangs heyday. An average week finds a clutch of death metal records in my mailbox and that’s about it.) But prior knowledge was unnecessary. I can’t believe all the youngsters standing and dancing and huddling in the rain were longtime fans or even knew anything about the band they were watching. There was something about seeing all of those disparate musicians gathered together onstage and playing this odd-but-urgent art music (and sometimes with a skillet) that was enough for any serious music fan who would’ve happened by. None of the songs stuck in my head, but none of them needed to. The experience was enough.

So, guys, where’s the next record?