I MUST admit, I'd forgotten how good a live band the New York trio Versus could be. Last night's show at the Echo -- part of their first full-scale tour in a decade -- was devastating, reminding me both how strong their playing is and how bogus the notion that indie rock is wimpy.
In some ways Versus were typical of '90s indie bands in their use of jangly guitars, strong melodies and distortion. But they always seemed to the closest thing to the Pixies -- with their sense of menace, wild swings of loud-soft-loud dynamics, their incongruous bits of quiet beauty amidst the noise, the male-female vocal trade-offs and perhaps leader the hint of surf guitar in Richard Baluyut's playing. Some of their songs have such evocative fragments of imagery to them that they could suggest entire novels.
Tuesday night -- with what I think of as the original lineup, plus the addition of a keyboard/violin player -- all their best qualities were out in force for a small but devoted crowd. The show had a nice balance between old stuff and new songs from their latest, On the Ones and Threes, more proof that the people running Merge have the best ears in the business.
After a slightly too long period of sound checking and what Richard called "uncomfortable silences," the show started with a kick and kept its force all the way through: Two highlights "Circle" "River" from the band's full-length debut The Stars Are Insane, but I was struck during the whole show by how good this band is at generating drama in its songs and in giving each one a sense of shape.
Here they are playing one the best on the new record at a show in Brooklyn.
Mostly, this was a great, bracing time-machine show without any huge surprises. One thing was different: The old laconic, slightly surly Versus has warmed up, and even sometimes-fearsome vocalist Fontaine Toups was playful and joking with the crowd. The whole show took the sting out of having missed Gang of Four the night before.
They're on to San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.