The Stratford 4 and BRMC: our new hope for music
J. Gordon
10/2/2003 4:12:50 PM

Closing out the month of September and delighting a packed house at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis were the Stratford 4 and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club—truly two of the coolest bands ever to revive a stunted music scene.

The lesser-known opener, The Stratford 4, takes all its cues from BRMC’s spacerock, shoegazey vibe, and then throws it out the window. San Francisco-based The Stratford 4 took the stage, profusely thanking St. Louis for having them, but we were the ones thankful at the end. These kids have the ultra-cool look down-pat: a couple of heroin-chic, dark-haired boys, the exotic Asian beauty bassist, and the hip girl drummer. In fact, The Stratford 4’s image is so PC, so major label package-perfect, that one initially doubts if the sound can match up to their image.

Quit yer doubting.

The Stratford 4 is beyond just looking cool, and in fact, beyond just being competent. The Stratford 4 is a wonder: think of the energy of Rolling Stone-style guitar riffs buried under a muddied, electronic blanket of noise. Think of the late 80s band, Midnight Oil’s lead singer Peter Garrett and his froggy coolness, and you have some idea of S4’s lead vocal sound—complete with the spasmodic arm movements. Think of thick, ethereal melodies plucked from the height of the shoegazey scene. We’re talking on par with bands like Lush and the Stone Roses. Now add in lyrics that mean something, and occasionally, in slower, quirky-yet-thoughtful numbers like “When I was 22,” they can mean a lot. No one trick pony, either, this band does songs for many moods, many tempos, and all perfect, elegant gems. And indie-types will be happy to know they’re on one of the cooler labels, JetSet Records. Pick up their disc and see for yourself.

HOWEVER, the crowd was there for the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, plain and simple. First playing in St. Louis in 2000 as openers for The Catherine Wheel back at the Firehouse club (R.I.P.), BRMC has developed a fan base to match the height, breadth and depth of their new songs, which turn more toward protest than their debut CD’s myriad expressions of love. Playing a good half-and-half mix of their first and most recent album, Take Them On, On Your Own [Virgin Records], both albums are loaded with the great tradition of Jesus and Mary Chain (esp. the Psychocandy-era), this band has developed its sound from the first album’s delightful noisy velvety madness, cleaned up the production, and infused it all with even more psychedelic groove, if that could be possible.

BRMC had the whole room dancing—but lots of bands can manage that. The difference is that BRMC manages to punch a bass line into you so hooky and contagious it shakes you from the roots of your hair to the soles of your feet. Deliciously cool, wickedly rocking and refreshingly alive, the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is one of stars to chart our course by as we navigate toward a hopeful musical future.

Photo of The Stratford 4 by J. Gordon


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