The mic stands and drum kit at Mr. Small’s stood tightly wrapped in synthetic ivy, looking more like a fruitful product of the stage’s imaginary soil than a gaudy prop of Dionysian excess. Maybe the entire production had been grown rather than constructed. Maybe Drink Up Buttercup and headliner Dr. Dog (who both played barn burning sets this past Wednesday night) played this show together in some other life, some other era.
Is the music they make timeless? Do they overtly reference artists of yesteryear to the point of doppelganger similarity? Do they embody the spirit of rock and fucking roll!?!?!
Maybe some of those previous sentiments were delusions of grandeur, rapturous poetry of the moment that actually never was. Whatever. But I still can’t shake this feeling of temporal dissonance, this feeling of organic occurrence, this feeling that these two groups have always been here.
Dr. Dog’s music and image doesn’t necessarily intuit a sonic sphere of naturalism in the traditional sense (re: rootsy folk music and/or bluegrass), but does convince me that these fellas are analog souls operating in a digital world. Their vocal chords and fingers are made of vinyl, dialing into their monitors with the scratch and detail of your favorite LP that hasn’t been heard in 20 years. Dr. Dog’s performance was filled out with greater verve than their records revealed, allowing all those beautiful harmonies, “Taxman” guitars and deceptively simple drum parts to pour onto the crowd in perfect, mono synchronicity. It’s not a weathered sound by any means, nor is it nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. It is simply an aversion for rock music to be distilled in a more natural form.
With the spiraling, classically tinged opening piano riff of “The Old Days” Dr. Dog settled into a hustling mood. The entire band bobbed back and forth on the balls of their feet, decked out in cabana hats, flappers, and Ray-Ban rip offs. Funk infused groover, “The Ark,” only heightened the shimmying beat, slowly opening with the foreboding declaration “God….He called for rain.” More than a little of The Band crept into the performance but with good measure, very few musical influences could impose such a communal feeling of involvement than the rambling feel of an all night jam session mixed with some fervent religious undertones.
The set was full of soulful yelps, squealing guitars and even one moment of spontaneous spoken word(not sure who the author was, but lead singer, known simply as Taxi, managed to pass the book through the crowd to take a peak which I sadly missed), generating an atmosphere of welcoming sincerity that hipster-leaning indie music tends to shy away from. The scene was a grassroots collection of devout fans and curious lookers on that embodied the same natural passion Dr. Dog exuded effortlessly.
For Drink Up Buttercup, however, that hint of naturalism translated into an undiluted primal joy, fully inhabiting their lacerating live show with seismic tantrums of crashing percussion(maracas and tin trashcans included) and one fateful march into the middle of the crowd to perform their acapella set closer. They pushed and scratched at the confines of the stage, almost destined to rip through the side wall and go stomping off into the Pittsburgh hillsides, doe-eyed followers trailing in their wake.
At Drink Up Buttercup’s most maniacal height, the raging “Sosey and Doesy” transformed from a campy carnival rant on the Farewell Captain 7” into an exuberant primitive stomp that was unstoppable. Bassisst Ben Money flailed spastically on stage with a bandana covering his mouth, robber-style, Farzad Houshiarnejad beat the ever loving hell out of that tin trash can with a suprisingly durable maracca, and both followed the lead of guitarist/lead singer James Harvey, howling into the rafters of the rennovated church, elevating what they describe as “campfire metal” to unforseen new heights.
Being in the middle of an era that’s chalk full of too-fucking-cool bands who would rather pose and evoke mystique than break a sweat, watching Drink Up Buttercup wear their inner six year old on their sleeves was exhilirating. My friends Rebecca and Julie convinced me to go to this show and I am seriously glad I didn’t make the wrong decision. Twice in two weeks I have been treated to intimate, impassioned rock shows of the highest order.