As one grows older, it becomes apparent that the concept of cool is over-rated. It’s a bullshit notion which elevates asshole behaviour and surliness to something acceptable and aspirational. So while certain corners of the media thrive on bands of young men causing mayhem and pissing off hotel cleaners, the reality is that you wouldn’t want to spend much time in their company. And, more often than not, their music is derivative muck.
Fortunately, Callers are not cool in any sense of the word. Their music is awkward, choppy and often complicated. There’s a gurning gangly guitarist (Ryan Seaton) and a singer, Sara Lucas, who dabbles in nervous hand-dance gestures. This is not always pleasant to watch. However, their musical nerdiness is their strongest asset – it’s present in the offbeat chord sequences, aberrant song structures and the wonky drum patterns. And while Callers can clearly write decent songs, Lucas’ voice is sometimes too overblown for the subtle musicality on display. These nuances tend to work better on record than in the live setting of the Bowery Ballroom, though the upbeat tracks from their current album Reviver (‘Heroes’, ‘Reviver’) benefit from an added rawness tonight. And with the eternally buoyant headliners following them, these are the tunes that get the biggest reaction.
ESG don’t even have to try to be cool. They radiate positivity and humility. After 34 years, this is to be their final show ever (though it isn’t the first time they’ve made that claim). In contrast to their support, they concentrate on simplicity. The songs revolve around a simple bass and drums set-up, scant lyrics and repetitive grooves. And while they offer up few surprises, one can’t help but be swept away by the sheer joyousness of both the songs and band members. Tracks like ‘Moody’, ‘You Make No Sense’ and ‘UFO’ are timeless wonders, as unique, danceable and downright odd as they were when first released. And it’s incredible how with a slight change in the rhythm, an open hi-hat or an added cowbell, they are capable of altering the mood, lighting up faces and adding a bounce to the collective hips of the audience. After two encores and endless deafening screams from the crowd, they command everyone to go home. Whether or not it is actually their last gig remains to be seen, but assuming it is, they couldn’t have ended on a more audacious high.