My first introduction to Used to Be Women came about 5-1/2 months ago when I saw them at Mercury Lounge as the first band on the bill supporting Howlin' Rain, a side project headed by Comets on Fire frontman Ethan Miller. Upon entering Mercury Lounge, I could hear what sounded like a Stones bootleg being blasted at a deafening volume from the enclosed stage room, which, of course, turned out to be Used to Be Women. Sadly, there were less than ten people in attendance during their set, which I believe had been pushed up to accomodate one of the two terrible bands that followed them. A shame, because they were the best band of the night, headliner included. Rockin' riffs and solid tunes aside, it was pretty obvious that their singer had to work a bit on his stage moves, which at the time consisted solely of repeatedly "testifyin'" with his left hand held out to the side. Of course, I have quite a sizeable soft spot for underdog opening bands, so I was immediately smitten.
Unable to find even the tiniest scrap of information about them until they put up a MySpace page several months later, I kept my eyes peeled for UtBW shows; periodically I'd see something come across at OhMyRockness, but for some reason I seemed to keep coming up with excuses, be they coincidental (seeing another show the same night), physical (back/knee pain), or vaginal (too lazy). But this week, seeing as I'm in a bit of a show-going slump lately (nothing since Bobby Bare Jr. on 11-17!) and I'm on my quest to average over one show per week this calendar year, I finally got off my fat ass to see these guys again.
First some description of the "venue": Glasslands is a small, underground-ish club in Brooklyn, situtated up against the East River. There are no markings announcing its existence anywhere outside, no numbers, no nuthin', so I actually walked right past the fuckin' place on my first pass down the block. After finally figuring out which random door to walk through, I found myself in what looked to have formerly been an artists' loft, which, what with rent prices skyrocketing in Williamsburg/surrounding area, probably isn't actually affordable to an actual "artist" anymore. Paid $6 to get in, and the door guy gave me change out of his wallet, which was somewhat endearing. Bar was stocked with a few booze bottles (including a plastic bottle of Barton's), a keg and $3 High Life cans, but it became plainly obvious as the night went on that BYOB was also allowed: many attendees were drinking forties out of paper bags, not to mention puffing butts. The space was decorated with all kinds of hipster bric-a-brac, random slogans spraypainted here and there, and a room devoted to displaying mixed media art / assorted crap in the back. An open upstairs area with several rooms and a balcony provided plenty of "walking around" space for those less self-conscious -- and crippled -- than myself. All in all a very cool little performance space, and just exactly the type of place that makes me secretly hope I get fired from my job so I can move to Brooklyn and go back to drinking heavily.
Anyway, when I arrived a little after 8 (the advertised start time) I immediately recognized the Used to Be Women singer and one of the guitarists. Drank a couple of High Lifes and kept to myself, which... let's just say I'm sure that it's pretty tough for someone of my size/shape to feel inconspicuous when I'm easily outweighing each and every individual in the room by a good bill.
The opening bands were terrible, and this is coming from someone who has a severe fetish for music I've never heard before. The first band sounded like some shit you'd hear at a junior high talent show, although I must say their singer was friggin' hot. One of their guitarists was the most rhythmically challenged musician I've ever seen on a stage of any kind. But they were infinitely better than the second "band," who seemed to spend more time engaging in utterly retarded stage banter (and, at one point, letting an audience member toy around on the drum set) than they did churning out their dull, uninspired drones.
Fortunately, Used to Be Women did rock the house. By the time they started their set, the room was fairly full -- I'd guesstimate about 80 people total, most of whom were visibly very intoxicated. I envied them all, considering I was probably the only schmuck that actually drove in from Long Island, because this would have been the ideal show to get really hammered at, then stumble back to my fictional apartment just mere blocks away and party 'till dawn. Sigh. But I digress. UtBW have added a third guitarist since I last saw them, and severely diminished the role of the rhythm guitarist, who had sort of served as de facto band spokesman when I'd seen them previously. I recognized a couple of the songs, notably the "can I put my legs over your shoulders/goddamn it baby that's the ticket now" and the "it eats me" ones. The frontman didn't confine himself to the small stage, which was already jam-packed with the three guitarists/bassist/drummer, instead singlehandedly filling in the textbook NYC "Circle of Shame" left empty at the front of the stage with manic gesticulations and gyrations. The improved stage presence and seeming lack of contrivance/pretension in his wild movements made for a more festive atmosphere even if, oddly, it seemed as though the borderline-incompetent first band had received a warmer crowd reception.
Musically, the obvious touchstones are The Rolling Stones (due not just to the singer's faithful approximation of Mick Jagger but their chosen guitar tones) and probably The Stooges, if only because UtBW also originally hail from Michigan and it's a convenient comparison to make. Instrumentally, the band's MVP is the handlebar moustachioed lead guitarist, who really got into rockin' the eff out and nearly matched the frontman for charisma and energy. Yup, these guys perform some genuine toe-tappers and head-nodders, and I'd highly recommend seeing them if you get a chance. I've got Dino Jr. tonight, as well as Chavez, Gogol Bordello and Bouncing Souls in the upcoming weeks before '07 starts, but I'd wager that when all is said and done, UtBW at Glasslands will end up being as memorable as any of 'em.