Vivian Girls, Tyvek, Baby Venom @ Ottobar

[Author's Note: this is a dual review. Alex is doing part one, and I'm finishing it up. let us know your thoughts, plz. thx!]


Opener riot grrl group Kill Meow, were, well named Kill Meow, and sold thongs at the merch table. I guess that speaks for itself.

Baby Venom, as I have said before, was a surprising treat to stumble upon. I had doubts about the live show, and there were some slips-ups (a pedal failed, some awkward transitions, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed). As a whole the set was impressive. Perhaps that is not the right word—the set was endearing.

Sarah, Nathan, and Dave have just the right amount of dorky hipness [author's note: see above photo hahahaha. sarah you are awesome.], and this melds well with their sound—what I would call “nostalgic acid prom pop?”

“Frank” was a highlight of the set for me, though the live version lacked the shimmering synth lines that create a certain sense of fragile beauty. Perhaps this was due to the failed pedal, or an un-attentive soundman.

Nathan’s drumming was spot on, just spastic enough. He reminded me of IDM, or a glitch type of drum programming, off center snare hits and rushes, but still just enough in meter to work.

This is a band that verges on unbridled emotion, but always pulls back, like a somewhat self-conscious teen not wanting to get carried away in front of peers. I assume this is in keeping with the bands aesthetic, not because of actual timidness on their part. I have called their sound “measured exuberance”.

Adolescence was painful the first time, but revisiting it through Baby Venom’s music adds an element of bittersweetness, not just outright grief. There can be beauty in the awkward; I wish I knew this when I was 15.

I am very much looking forward to more shows from Baby Venom, and some proper recordings.

Detroit—home to some of the music I love most: underground techno, and garage rock. Tyvek obviously falls into the latter category. Detroit has such a storied past of seminal rock–the MC5, The Stooges (technically I guess they are from Ann Arbor, but close enough)—not to mention Motown, and recently The White Stripes. Tyvek is stepping into some big shoes, and big ups to them for doing it. But do they fill them—no, or not yet at least. Perhaps it is unfair judge present bands against such canonical icons.

Tyvek’s sound is like the DuPont material the band takes its name from—tough, economical, and used in multiple applications (Next time you get a over 21 wristband put on, know that is Tyvek).

Everything was spot on, for the most part. Tyvek is a large band, three guitars, a bass player, and a drummer. I just feel more could be done with less, or that the size of the band is not being fully exploited. Take Double Dagger, for example. They accomplish the same type of garage/lo-fi/punk with just Bruce on bass, Denny on drums (and sometimes projectiles), and Nolen on vocals/ crowd confrontation.

When I saw the triple guitar set up, I thought we’d be in for some six-string dogfights, ear-bleed feedback and all. This was not the case.

But this criticism should be tempered by the fact that this is a small detail in an otherwise solid set. To front man Kevin’s credit, he put on just the right amount of attitude—enough to get the pissed-off rock vibe across, but not so much that it distanced the audience. The set was well paced.

Some of the best songs featured repeated phrases like “burning building, burning building, burning building, etc.” or “Can you drive a Honda like I drive a Honda? Can you drive a Honda like I drive a Honda? Can you drive a Honda like I drive a Honda? Etc.” Not exactly Keats, but this is garage rock, a genre forever without pretension.

I would like to see Tyvek again, and next time listen more analytically. I find that at least two live viewings are really needed to make a final critical judgment on a band.

ROUND TWO: Vivian Girls – by Caleb

The internet is a hype machine. We all know this. There is always danger within this dynamic. One thing that can happen is that untalented, poppy bullshit bands can somehow get thrown into the mix and attempt to ride the wave of internet-underground authenticity. This is pretty rare. I guess I’m thinking something along the line of The Plain White T’s? Ugh.

More often than not, there is instead some form of backlash held against bands that gain popularity very quickly- the ultimate example being Vampire Weekend, who fucking blew up because of the internet. Within a couple weeks of hearing about them, they were on MTV and touring internationally. Well, as it turns out they are extremely talented pop songsters, and in my humble opinion deserved this attention. Much of the indie underground despised them because of their glowing, kiss-ass, blog-o-licious following, in combination with their clean, sugary, whiteboy image and musical output.

But, as much as we, the snarky & cynical underground media want to, we can’t always hate. Or can we?

The Vivian Girls find themselves in a position of rising internet popularity. As of 1:42 pm today, they already have 1,395 plays on myspace. Several of the more notorious taste-makers have blogged about them in a big way (see write-ups from pitchfork, stereogum, gorilla vs. bear) and it’s definitely clouded my judgment of them.

They’ve been deemed “lo-fi, garage rock”, a genre that I can totally get down with. Also, their name is a reference to Henry Darger, one of my favorite outsider artists. Also, they’re all girls, they’re cute, tatted up and the bass player has red hair with straight-bangs (almost an unbeatable combination, seriously. see above photo far right).

So how was the show? It was good. But I couldn’t help but think: “Do they deserve this much attention really?” The songs were good and catchy, but they were definitely super lo-fi and drowning in vocal reverberations, almost to a fault at times. This could be their goal. Don’t get me wrong- they sound fucking superb in recordings, and very vintage. So the answer to my previous question is: I’m not sure.

If I had just wandered into the Ottobar knowing nothing about these girls, I would have been really impressed and wanted to know more. But since their reputation preceded them, I was instantly pessimistic.

Bottom line is that I’m not gonna hate, at least this time. They’re pretty fun, and I’m excited to see where they end up after all of this. I would say they are definitely worth your time and money- just try to avoid seeing them through the thick haze of publicity.

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One Response to “Vivian Girls, Tyvek, Baby Venom @ Ottobar”

  1. julia says:

    I guess that’s the good thing about not having to write reviews about these folks… more often than not i’ll go into a show without even having heard the music. It’s a game of chance, totally. But sometimes, wow! Envy me. haha.

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