Franklin Soults live review of the COME reunion show Sept. 26 at T.T. The Bear's is below; the above video by narlus, and the Cellars By Starlight preview in this week's Phoenix is by Matt Parish.
“I’d like to thank all of my friends,” said Thalia Zedek Sunday night at T.T. The Bear’s Place, just as Come prepared to cap their outstanding two-hour reunion show.
“We love you, Thalia!” someone shouted back, prompting guitarist Chris Brokaw to reply, “I’d like to thank Thalia’s friends, too.”
The scene was typical of the indie-rock reunions that have regularly packed (or pocked) underground clubs for at least a decade. But in the case of Come — whose original members staged this sold-out hometown gig before a one-time Las Vegas bash with other temporarily reunited icons, like Pavement and Guided by Voices, for Matador Records’s 21st birthday party — it was hardly predictable.
Between 1990 and 2001, Come was Boston’s alt-rock dark horse. Signed to the hottest cool label of the decade, Matador, and boosted by a resume full of cool catchwords like Codeine, Uzi, heroin and androgyny, the accomplished and uncompromising foursome nevertheless alienated alt-rock’s burgeoning fan base as much as they attracted them. Over the course of the decade, the band’s four albums all featured incomprehensible to bilious lyrics (random sample: “I stab you a little bit/Just like you do to me”) and raucous, churning, dissonant music that rarely settled into its bitter barbiturate groove or allowed any climactic release. Add to that the group’s disturbing live shows, in which Zedek squirmed and bellowed like it was her last night on Earth, and the prurient band name felt more deeply ironic than Nirvana’s.
Now that Come is gone, with the tooth and needle marks of Zadek’s youthful last-nights-on-Earth long absorbed into her healthy 49-year-old bulge, the irony seems poised to cut another way. Yet at T.T.’s, the crowd’s enthusiasm helped lighten the band’s reenactment of painfully alienated youth gone by. Just by representin’ (also known as “showing up”), the heterogeneous gathering of leather dykes, debonair gays, grizzled geeks and much in between offered rare proof that (white) bohemia does indeed thrive in Boston after college. As one 30-ish dude raved to his buddy, “This show is, like, Sonic Adults.”
He wasn’t just talking about the crowd. Zedek was more sedate than in decades past, but that seemed fitting, and her three bandmates were just fit, period. Bassist Sean O’Brien played with his back to the crowd, but when he turned around he often wore a grin. Drummer Arthur Johnson shot through the din with rapid-fire patterns whose jarring complexity now seems prophetic. And Zadek and Brokaw traded roiling riffs and yearning, burred vocals that seemed far more varied and laced with beauty than I remember.
The single encore was a cover of the Rolling Stones’ 1971 downer “I Got the Blues,” which Come recorded in 1992, a year almost as distant from today as Come was from the Stones’ original when they recorded it. As Zadek said earlier in the evening, when the show reached a prescheduled intermission, “Seems like the time went by pretty quick. Now I just want to keep going.”
That’s exactly what fellow old-timer Chuck Cleaver has done with the opening act, Wussy. During Come’s heyday, Cleaver led Ass Ponys, oddball major label alt-rockers whose anxious jangle was tinged with creepy country flavorings that Cleaver picked up from his rural Ohio upbringing outside Cincinnati. For the past five years, Cleaver has teamed up with fellow singer-songwriter-guitarist Lisa Walker to co-lead Wussy. The quartet has a grungier bottom than Ass Ponys, a three-album catalog demonstrating as much songwriting talent as any band of the past decade, and less public recognition than the teeniest MySpace rage.
A longstanding Wussy fan, Come’s Chris Brokaw invited the quartet to play this one-off. Only Walker and Cleaver made the 15-hour drive, leaving the rhythm section back in Cincinnati. For 45 minutes, the couple traded self-denigrating quips and gorgeous vocals with an ease that belied their songs’ intensity.
“This shit becomes a new animal every time we do it,” mused Cleaver. “It’s like, if we practiced, we’d be amazing.”
The 50 fans following along raptly might have politely disagreed.