Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
I have a few friends who are English rock-boy types and we Gchat or text each other from time to time. Sometimes, when I’m feeling duplicitous, I play a little joke on them. I’ll wind them up, which is not hard, and get them to say something really potentially offensive about a girl or a football match or a British band, and just after they’ve gone really out there and possibly used the word “cunt,” I just stop responding. It takes a total of about 45 seconds for them to go from outlandish to mortified. This is one of my favorite qualities in the Brits: they are both totally repressed and completely unhinged at the same time, which makes for great comedy, great friendships and great music.
“The entire place reeked of the British pub’s signature sent: fermenting urine and beer mixed together and soaked for decades into damp wooden floors. Yum!”
I mention this because I happen to be in England for a few weeks and last night I went to my first UK club rock show in a while. Hilariously, a bunch of New York bands are in town right now – Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors – but I wanted to see something authentically English and relatively unknown. A good friend sorted me for a show at the Sebright Arms arms, a tiny, stinky pub with a dank fire-hazard of a basement that doubles as a venue. The only catch: I had to pretend to be someone else to get in.
“I’m Sam Jones,” I said to the girl at the door with an epic afro and lips painted a deep maroon. “You’re not Sam Jones.” She said without missing a beat. “I know Sam Jones and you are not her.” Busted. She laughed, though, stamped my wrist and let me in. The entire place reeked of the British pub’s signature sent: fermenting urine and beer mixed together and soaked for decades into damp wooden floors. Yum! I’d missed the rumored-to-be excellent opening act, Brolin, a buzzy, moody low-fi UK act who my friend said lived up to the hype. But I was just in time to catch London based four-piece Night Engine. They sound like what would happen if you disassembled the individual songs on Bowie albums Ziggy through Station to Station, shuffled them like cards, and then reassembled them into actual songs. Note: this is a good thing. This band is pretty awesome. But the most amazing part about Night Engine’s live show is the singer’s facial expressions. He’s a good-looking dude, tall and skinny with slicked-back fluorescent red hair and the sense to wear a nice collared shirt and suspenders to his rock show, but while he’s singing he’s like a parody of an agitated art school punk, all exaggerated sneers and flaring nostrils.
Post-show we ascended from the sweaty stink of downstairs and had a few pints at the quaint bar upstairs. But London is an early town, and soon the lights were on and the mad rush to catch the last tube back home was on. I made it as far as Highbury Islington before I lost my way. I was staring worriedly at the tube map, trying to figure out which train I needed next, when a station worker dressed in a uniform so crisp and well-tailored he looked like an army general came up to me and asked if he could help. I love this town.