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Robbers on High Street: live at Café Du Nord

 
Nearly everyone seems out of place at a Robbers on High Street show – from the square-dancing duo to my left, still growing into their legs, to the line of solo barflies sitting tight-lipped at the bar. But far from seeming stiff, that “whose scene is this anyway” vibe made the whole night feel new and grand, like an extended first date or a rad redux of your high school prom. Even frontman Ben Trokan seems surprised to be here, squirreling around the stage like a happy-go-lucky youngster whose parents finally let him stay out past curfew. Indeed, when Robbers on High Street took the stage at Café Du Nord, Trokan set the tone with a weird exuberance: “hey, you all made it,” he said, punctuating the greeting with a goofy smile and an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Like a dorky Don Juan, Trokan’s got more than enough charm to turn a mismatched, nervous audience into a sea of dancing bobblehead dolls. The Robbers wasted no time, kicking off the set with “Crown Victoria,” air a-flutter with poppy, skewed guitar riffs and roaming basslines. Halfway into the opening tune, everyone suddenly seemed to know everyone else, and so the gig was on.

And for all the Spoon comparisons, I’ve got this to say: when it comes to live performance, Robbers on High Street dwarf their New York predecessors in nearly every way. Whereas Britt Daniels and company pump out a stiff, swagger-laden set, Thursday’s affair with the Robbers felt less like a spectacle and more like a get-together with old friends. Drummer Tomer Danan sports a permanent, lofty smile, the look of a young boy suspended in awe at the big city. Trokan laces little quips between songs (“don’t get too crazy, man, it’s Thursday!”), echoing a whoo! from the crowd here and there. And while the live set doesn’t feature any drastic variation, nearly every cut seems warmer than the album. They barrel through a tighter, tenser rendition of “Across Your Knee” and get a little manic with “Married Young” – clearly a set highlight, with the last ahh-ahh-ahh ha ahhhh lost under applause.

Oh yeah: if you live by the “twice makes a trend” maxim, look out. At the end of their last jaunt through Slim’s, Architecture in Helsinki called all their opening acts back on stage for a 20-man rendition/lovable butchering (cut them some slack, they’re Australian) of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Thursday night was a charming case of déjà-vu, as these Robbers pulled off a steamy cover of “Don’t Stop me Now” to start their encore. And if you couldn’t glean the connotations of the song before, the lyrics take on new meaning when delivered by a sweaty, long-haired vocalist in a zip-down leotard – which was zipped, well, down. (So that’s why they call him Mr. Fahrenheit!) I guess there’s nothing like a tongue-in-cheek cover of a classic rock megaband to punctuate a fine evening of music.

And the moment that summarizes the entire night: during “Japanese Girls,” Trokan falters a bit when he delivers the line, “some things you do in the city: walk around in circles, meet Japanese girls.” With a sly smile, he glances up toward the street, and one thing is almost certain: he’s aware that this is San Francisco, and though they’re 3000 miles from home, the sentiment still holds true. We get the impression that Trokan and the gang are here for the same reason we are: we just want to have a good time in the city. Well, mission accomplished.

-Phillip Taylor-Parker

Got a comment for the author? Direct your marriage proposals, death threats, and anything in between to phil@betterpropaganda.com.
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