90 Day Men: Live in Chicago April 12, 2004

90 Day Men is composed of Andy Lansangan, Brian Case, Rob Lowe and Cayce Key. According to my sources, the name "90 Day Men" is based upon a medical term for patients awaiting psychiatric treatment. In 1999, the original three members of 90DM moved from St. Louis to Chicago. Lansangan jumped on-board in 2001. From the beginning, the 90DM were plagued with the "Washington, D.C. sound" description but have overcome this pigeonhole with their latest release. Furthermore, over the last few years, they've continuously escaped innumerable, though futile, journalistic attempts at genre-placement. These guys bring both the originality and beauty back into Rock N Roll. That being said, their April 12th performance at Open End was a lackluster exhibition of what the 90DM truly have to offer.

I've seen the 90DM play several times and I will certainly do my best to see them many times in the future. In addition to this April 12th/Open End show, I saw them recently when they played a sold-out record release show (with CocoRosie and Pit er Pat) at the Empty Bottle on Friday, February 20th. Their new record seriously gives me goose bumps--filled with haunting melodies and distinctive, moving arrangements. As I am always particularly interested in all things percussion, I've even commented that drummer Cayce Key's posture is particularly straight and impressive and, well, close to perfect. However, the toll of the touring road was evidently weighing on the shoulders of ALL of the 90DM at the Open End. There was a bit of slouching goin' on.

The show was, like their albums, lean and to the point. CocoRosie began the show with a catchy mixture of electronics and folk. And, when the 90 Day Men hit front-and-center, with their characteristic blend of acoustic-rock and electronic sounds, they pretty much stuck to tracks from their newest album, Panda Park (Southern, 2004), and "Too late or Too Dead" (Southern, 2003), their most recent E.P.

Criticism voiced about 90 Day Men was basically aimed at distracting vocals and detached delivery over the past few years. But with the release of Panda Park, critics have pretty much agreed that the 90DM have sailed past these "problems." Seeing them play live, one can't help but notice that Andy Lansangan's jazzy, swirling Wurlitzer-playing significantly warms up the 90DM sound. And, live and on the record, the vocals balance out and swim amongst the guitars and rhythm elements with smoother strokes and less noticeable effort. They're still balls-out-original and there's still a healthy dose of Case's signature disarming wail (I've heard the word "caterwauling" used . . . and it's perfect . . . ), but you're not so afraid anybody's gonna fall down when this band tumbles the balance beam anymore.

Over the last few months, the 90DM have been on the road waging a rather thorough tour ("war") in support of Panda Park. They have toured across Europe and are now making their way across the U.S. The most honest comment I can make is that it showed. The performance at Open End opened my eyes a bit. It is now easier for me to understand how this band, that I have seen intelligently, subtly, and elegantly rock the proverbial indie house, can sometimes appear a bit detached, cold, or insincere. It's a fine line; one that's understandably easy to cross when one has spent a few too many nights "sleeping" in too many different planes, trains, and automobiles.

Still, their Open End live editions of "Even Time Ghost Can't Stop Wagner" and "Silver and Snow" caused me to involuntarily sigh and look to the person next to me and smile. This band is impressive. Finally, there IS something new. Whether or not their live delivery is a bit road-ravaged or tired on occasion, these Men sure know how to put the pretty and the pretty damn hot back into rock.

The 90 Day Men seem to be seriously brooding about some things. Their lyrics may be abstract but the emotions behind them, undefined as they may be, are not. The music 90 Day Men sends out into the world provides an angst outlet for those of us who were listening to Minor Threat and Fugazi for the same purpose when we were in high school. Listening to 90 Day Men, the crowd concentrates and heads move with the music. Most of the action in the audience is attributable to the subtle, but undeniable, rise and fall of its members' heartbeats, as the songs ebb and flow and the lovely foreplay turns into, well. . . not just foreplay. It's music that hits but takes its time and makes the audience wait for it and want it.

Better Propaganda contributor Michelle Liffick reviews a live 90 Day Men performance.
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