The Mermaid Scared The Fishes Away

Julie Atlas Muz is the mermaid, but the lucky fishes in the Coral Room’s aquarium do not seem to appreciate their good fortune. Dressed in various, multicolored, pisciform outfits and fetching pince-nez, she prances and cavorts amid the fleeing, horizontally-challenged denizens of the bar’s back wall, while the bands go through the motions in the far end corner.

The room is not huge, reminiscent of a smaller, cleaner Don Hill’s (and one filled with customers…) but it is all done in an unfortunate dull gray finish of plastic fake concrete and concrete dead reef that’s as hard on the eyes as it is on the ears. There is a real stage, but it has an odd cut-out design at stage left, that leaves the bass players permanently on the brink. Portholes to the VIP/band room give it a look more reminiscent of a blockhaus along the Atlantic Wall than of any cruise ship I’ve seen.

Stage lighting is an afterthought, consisting mostly of flashing disco lights pressed into service without proper basic training. The first band, Oxford Collapse, a rock trio from Brooklyn, complained about all the twitching flashes and colors and were rewarded with three static spots illuminating respectively the wall, the drummer, and the wall. Not an auspicious start, and the difficult sound situation did not help. On top of it, the tendency their songs have to just stop instead of finishing properly is rather disconcerting; it’s a trick that can be used to great effect -Beatles anyone?- but it mustn’t be overdone.

They play the kind of relentless, driving music that requires relentless, driving vocals. Unfortunately they fell short in that department last night, but it is hard to gauge where the blame lay, because the other two bands battled the same problem.

Franz Ferdinand, a newish foursome from Scotland on tour to promote their new record, took the stage to renewed spotlight hysteria, but they chose to ride with it. They’ve been compared to all sorts of bands, from the Doors to Sparks and everything in between, so I’ll add my own take: the obvious Beatles (a four-piece band with two main and two secondary singers with vocal riffs clearly inspired by the formerly-Fab Four ), but mostly The Motors, whose twin-guitars assault in the late 70′s seemed poised to conquer the world when the band crumbled upon itself. Unfortunately again, the vocals did not sound up to the task, but in addition I have a sneaky suspicion that the band may also be lacking in the memorable-hook department.

Palomar, another Brooklyn band, with catchy, bouncy pop songs and delightful stage banter, also complained about the lights and the sound (Audience: “More vocals!” — Rachel: “You’re yelling in the wrong direction!”) but eventually got the sound reasonably well sorted out -at least from several rows away from the stage- and managed to play a bright, pleasant set with their new drummer, whom I was seeing for the first time.

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