The Mermaid Lounge

December 09, 2004

At least Bill Murray's lounge singer character on Saturday Night Live was sincere. William Shatner gave a new face to self-conscious, dramatically ironic kitsch when he did a spoken word cover of Pulp's "Common People" on his new album. The song is actually a well-arranged joy, and it's worth it alone to hear Shatner put Shakespearean inflection into, "I want to sleep with common people, like you/Well what else could I do/I said I'll see what I can do."

So, since William Shatner isn't exactly an everyday topic, it was funny I watched a band named after the actor the same day I first listened to the song. Thursday night at The Mermaid Lounge, prolific guitarist Potpie joined with members of Chef Menteur and Paradise Vendors to play psychedelic, space rock. After the set, Potpie explained the band's deal to a curious listener. "We don't even know what we're gonna do before we get up there," he said. What they did was that much better, then.

Armed with bows and guitar pedals for simple effects and loops, the band had two bassists, two guitarists, a drummer, and a keyboardist. In the middle of the dancefloor, a girl--band member #7--created color melds on a projector from two transparent slates full of colored water and bubbles. Above the light she switched the prominence of one slate over another and the speed at which she dragged them over the light according to the character of the song. With no lights lit onstage, the result on the screen behind the band was trippy.

After he saw the projection and heard the first minute of the song, a friend said, "Maybe I should have brought pot brownies." Yes, very mellow, at least for the first third of the performance. Mallets created a dulled, repetitive beat as sounds appeared in the air like fireflies hard to catch, a covered palette exhausting confusion into a conceded calm. The sounds were so distorted that they could have easily come from a bowed bass, a guitar or a synthesizer.

Potpie opened up the second third of the set with a straightforward, rocking melody. The band followed in fine form and got wild, loud and freaked out for a while. Then, they took it back down as deftly as they brought it up. I drifted off with the music, and next thing I knew, the set was over. Goodnight. Short and sweet. By keeping their riffing limited, Shatner neutralized their only possible weakness--being a repetitive bore.

There was a good turnout for the show, and even though more than one person was taken back by the brevity of the set, the audience applauded with satisfaction.

Both Shatners are doing well these days.

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