On The List :: Motel Motel @ Mercury Lounge (7.16.08)

Album release shows are always a little fun. The band always has their crowd in the house and they've been pulling and promoting the show for weeks. You imagine that an email with the following subject heading was probably sent out to a list of friends, acquaintances, and fans: "If there is one night to come out and support us, this is it." They've put a ton of work into their album and, frankly, if they have any label or industry connections they've tried to twist their arms into the show. In a year of big events, this might be the biggest.

So Motel Motel shook hands, thanked people, did a long equipment set-up/sound-check and then took the stage with "Coffee." It's undeniably their best song to date. It keeps lead-singer Eric Engel in check while letting his gut-wrenching voice and lyrics carry the emotional weight. This is a delicate balance. While Engel is yelping, "I don't need your help/I can feel helpless on my own," I am leaning over and mentioning that this might be the best lyric written in last 18 months in New York. I am not kidding. The crowd is Motel Motel's crowd and they are loving it. I enjoy "Coffee." It's everything that's good about this band.

From there, it's hard not to feel like we're looking at Ryan Adams doing a set of Pixies covers. Motel Motel set up an alt-country aesthetic and then thrash through the middle of their arrangements before finding something solvent in the end. This is a band with problems, to be sure, but they'd rather keep it out of the last chapter. Other bands can leave without solutions, thinking the problems are productive. Motel Motel is built for catharsis and resolution doesn't have to be reductionist.

The most important moment of the night happens away from the microphones. Engel and the rest of the band begin screaming disjointed lyrics in off-beat a cappella. It goes on a little too long and you think it might ruin the song or even the night. But the band comes thrashing back at the last possible moment. If people secretly want to see car accidents and plane crashes, this is opposite impulse. We've watched the plane plunge toward earth and now we're cheering as it pulls up, only barely clearing the tree line. It's a little bit of an up-and-down affair but hope is always a little more attractive than accidental destruction. And I can feel helpless on my own.

Listen :: Motel Motel - Harlem

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