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Culture Reviews
Zoot Woman
35 mm 
By Matt Siegel
Okay, back to the confessional we go. I broke the rules and I broke them big-time. Now I’m no Lester Bangs and I certainly don’t believe the axiom attributed to him that we, as rock critics are “the enemy,” but I do have to admit that I now see his point about losing objectivity when we consort with our subjects. It’s with just that loss of objectivity that I’ve been struggling as I prepared this review of London-based Zoot Woman’s Friday night show at 35mm.

The reason? On Saturday night they came over for one of my famous vegetarian cook-ups - all the rage with oligarch and hipster alike this party-season – and I found out that they’re not only great guys but phenomenal musicians with an off-hand repertoire running from The Beatles to The Jam and back. After rocking my kitchen with dozens of sing-alongs, much to the chagrin of my new neighbors (yeah, I heard you banging on the pipes), how was I going to write the review that needed to be written? How could I reconcile the tame band I saw on Friday with the dynamos in my kitchen? Well, I finally decided, if it was vanity and hipsterism that put me in this hole, then have to dig my way out with the righteous shovel of truth. And the truth is that if those guys had put on half the show on Friday that they put on in my kitchen, and then maybe it would have been worth seeing.

Zoot Woman – consisting of singer/guitarist Johnny Blake, drummer Adam Blake and newly added multi-instrumentalist (and delicious Parker Posey facsimile) – just didn’t seem to know what to do on the big stage of 35mm, a stage seemingly tailor made to their particular shtick: one part ironic eighties retro act, two parts stadium rock with a twist of indie thrown in there for good measure. To be fair, the attendance was dismal, forcing the delay of the opening number for over an hour and certainly costing them some momentum in the process, but they just never seemed to have their hearts in it, no matter how many times Price enthusiastically clapped his hands or exhorted the audience to “come on Moscow, let me hear you sing.” I don’t think I can put it any better now than I did in my notes when, during a monotonous and tepid refrain of “I’ve got a feeling, it’s automatic,” I had written that “yes, it most certainly is.” I did not mean that in a good way. However I also wrote that the “the lead singer reminds me of Borat,” and since I’m not really sure where I was going with that one maybe my notes aren’t as rock solid a touchstone as I thought.

Now, anyone who’s read one of my reviews knows that I’m a pretentious asshole who likes nothing more than to pick a band apart regardless of whether the audience seems to be enjoying themselves or not, and this is no exception. The audience - those few who were there - did seem to enjoy their act and I can’t say that I blame them from the point of view of showmanship. They are deadly musicians, they look pretty (especially Ms. Posey) and they do the requisite dance steps that seem to so inspire a Moscow crowd. What I just couldn’t countenance was that for all their talent they seemed content to settle for wit and irony instead of guts and feeling. Actually though, I couldn’t even be sure if they were trying to be ironic or not. I was reminded of the episode of The Simpsons where two kids are standing together and when kid number one is asked whether he’s being ironic or not he simply replies: “Dude, I don’t even know anymore.” In the end, what I resented was spending my time trying to figure that out rather than listening to music.

Maybe all the hand-wringing on my part is just misplaced guilt over the fact that I, unlike the people who paid to see them perform at 35mm, got to see just what this band is capable of when they play real music. I just hope that at some point they decide to drop the spiel and let everyone else in on their secret: that they’re real musicians.

11.10.06
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