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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Robbers on High Street Take Low (Effort) Road

Note to bands, managers, and concert planners: if, in planning your next show, you suffer lack luster ticket sales, 20 degree wind scaring away door sales, and an inexplicably incompetent ticket box, give away free ice cream and chocolate. That helps.

Such was the fate of Robbers on High Street show at their Saturday show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. With the East River deflecting freezing gusts onto the line at will call, the extended absence of the will call employee was especially upsetting. As my fellow line jockeys whined “why did I leave my coat in the car?” this girl momentarily wondered where exactly her cab had dropped her off – North Brooklyn or the North Shore. Luckily a table was set up inside to give away free ice cream sundaes (seriously) and each CD came with a bar of boutique dark chocolate. And if there’s free food, it doesn’t really matter where the cab took you, right?

Once inside, the shiny cleanness of the Music Hall was, as always, surprising. The aesthetic is painstakingly industrial and bare, putting a special onus on performers to fill the space. This is not a great venue to phone in a show, as we saw in some of the opening acts; thankfully, a particularly strong set by Jukebox the Ghost set off a much needed energy in the crowd, but it was a long way until Robbers on High Street took the reins on the audience. In the meantime, a lot of them went to grab a beer – somewhere else.

Robbers took the stage to find that a notable chunk of the audience had deserted them and their energy was low at the start of their set, which featured tunes from their last disc, Grand Animals. As the set rolled on, the band and the crowd warmed to each other, but it was telling that the biggest cheers and the most enthusiastic dancing came from the cover for Guilt by Association vol 2, “Cool It Now.” It wasn’t clear if the refresher came from a communal love of New Edition or the violinist who joined them on stage to bring honor to this 80s classic.

Following in a theme started by earlier bands, Robbers continued a light mocking of their audience – an audience that clearly deserved it after asking lead singer Ben Trokan to “tell a joke.” His refusal to oblige, justifying that his joke was “racist, sexist and homophobic” seemed the only appropriate response. Personally I would have like to see him hurl one of their ubiquitous Tecate bottles at the girl, but that’s just me.

In another example of how concerts are becoming overly contrived and predictable, Robbers said goodnight and headed off stage for approximately 3 minutes before coming out for their encore. Remember when encores had to be earned by the audience? Remember when you screamed and cheered and hoped and prayed that the band wasn’t done? Sometimes you won, but sometimes you got roadies wrapping up cords, but there was a suspense to it. Now audiences stand and wait for the obligatory extra two songs. Robbers did not disappoint the dozens of fans patiently waiting their re-entry.

Overall, the performance was unremarkable. Cameo appearances by the violinist, a trumpet and some maracas kept things somewhat lively, and the musicality of the band was obvious. But this girl couldn’t get over the feeling that the band would rather be doing anything else. For a solid band like Robbers, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt and assume this was due to an underwhelming crowd, expansive venue, and the unpleasant combo of ice cream and Tecate. For any curious fans, definitely check them out live, but try a more intimate venue where their personalities are more pronounced. And bring a sixer of Tecate.

By Jesy, who's suddenly in the mood for a Tecate.

This violinist loves him some coffee...

Three instruments between two band members. Gotta respect that.

I don't think Robbers on High Street are sponsored by Tecate, but they gets points for product placement anyway.

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