ARCHIVE of District of Cacophony

June 22, 2009 | REVIEWS

Frodus & The Van Pelt, Black Cat, 6/20/09

Over the past few years, I’ve become more accustomed to going to see reunions of bands I cared about in their heyday. It was one thing for me to see, say, a Black Sabbath reunion (though I totally liked Sabbath when I did get to see them), and quite another for me to see bands that actually meant a lot to me, and were around, when I was younger.

It’s weird. I can’t tell whether bands have always gotten back together like this, and I just didn’t realize it because I was young, or whether this is a new-ish phenomenon. It’s reasonable to guess that reunions are happening more often, though, partly because the internet makes it easier for fans to demand it, for bands to get the word out, etc. Seems like nowadays I can’t swing a guitar around in the air without hitting some band from my past surprisingly re-appearing.

On Saturday night it was time for ’90s indie rockers Frodus and The Van Pelt. I was a little stunned to see the listing; I’m still a little stunned to have seen the show. It made me nostalgic and it made me happy. I stood in the Black Cat thinking about the old Black Cat a few doors up 14th Street, where I saw the Van Pelt on their last tour in 1997. It made me think about the late-’90s indie rock/post-hc scene, friends in mediocre emo bands, taping CDs, listening to 7-inches, waking up with giant X’s on my hands because I was too young to drink at rock shows. I was thinking about how the Van Pelt and Frodus superficially sound a lot different, but made a lot of sense as part of the same scene. They still make sense to me as a pair of bands, though I don’t know the extent of their friendship or knowledge of each other.

Anyway, as I wandered down those dusty mental corridors, I totally enjoyed the show. Missed the openers, but as soon as the Van Pelt went on I skedaddled towards the stage to take it in. I can’t remember the last time I saw a show where I knew every song, where I practically knew all the words.

I am not sure which, if any, of the guys playing alongside Chris Leo were originally part of the band. Clearly Toko, the bassist, was not there (I wasn’t really expecting her), and Chris referred to the other guitarist as “Jason” who was not one of the original members. Maybe the drummer was the same, I couldn’t say. But this essentially-new crew sounded great. They sure looked old enough to be original members. Leo looked almost frightening, all skinny and wan, with a wild-man’s hair and stare. He couldn’t hit the high notes (could he ever? I don’t remember), but his trademark spoken-word delivery sounded dead-on and the songs held up a little better than I would’ve expected. I had wondered whether the Van Pelt might sound too dated, too emo-y and too effete, especially compared to Frodus. Also I wondered if I would like hearing those old songs as much as I like listening to Chris Leo’s more recent projects — after all, I saw the VP and the Lapse but have never seen Vague Angels.

I needn’t have worried. The band seemed loose and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Leo gave a couple interesting digressions and commentaries, talking about how the reunion came about, about how the Van Pelt recorded their first demo in DC at WGNS Studios. He had a typically erudite anecdote about Patterson, NJ, and Pierre L’Enfant (he is into this sort of stuff — I’ve read a couple of his books and they are full of thoughts about history and places and such). They played a pretty lengthy set with most of the songs I would’ve wanted to hear. I was surprised, as I listened, to realize how much the Van Pelt influenced me, musically. All the stuff I write — especially when I try to write rock songs or work with a band — is pretty much an attempt to have cascading guitars in a Van Pelt kind of a way. Anyhow, I guess that is my own digression here…

They closed with “The Speeding Train,” which the friend I went with didn’t recognize, but which I knew from the single, and from the Lapse version, and also from my memories of that 1997 show. In ’97, in front of what seemed like a bigger crowd, the original Van Pelt played that song and someone in the audience — a friend of the band’s? — shouted out for it as “The Puppy’s Chin.” There was a nice symmetry about the whole thing… and did I mention that I am now quite old enough to drink at rock clubs? This came in handy, too, because I have often claimed that I will take “beer over nostalgia any day” and I didn’t mind getting a little drunk for Frodus.

Here are a couple cell phone shots of the Van Pelt:

The Van Pelt @ Black Cat
The Van Pelt @ Black Cat

I don’t know nearly as much about Frodus as I do about the Van Pelt. It’s a little surprising, actually. After all, Frodus are from DC, and I have some of their music, and I even hung out in similar social circles to Shelby Cinca, the singer and guitarist — I think we were probably at some of the same parties, probably spoke to each other before. Also, they are great. I don’t know why I wasn’t more into them, it’s just one of those things that happen.

So I didn’t have nearly as much to contemplate, on a personal level, during the Frodus set, but I totally enjoyed it. I’m not entirely sure whether this incarnation of Frodus is the same as the original one, either, but they sounded awesome. It made me laugh, in a good way, to see kids mosh and pump their fists to this geeky band. I like their style, I like the screaming, and some of the songs totally rock. As I was only moderately familiar with them going in, I was comparing them to other bands I know better like Unwound and These Arms Are Snakes and Drive Like Jehu. I love all that aggressive, snarly guitar stuff (and I noticed that the drummer was wearing an Obits t-shirt).

Apparently Frodus is really back (this is great because I was not too into Shelby Cinca’s other band The Cassettes) and I look forward to hearing more from them. In the meantime here is a video from their performance…