If you are interested in an engaging musical experience that everyone walks away from happy, then a New York Disco Villains show is the place to be. This uniquely original band works hard to make sure that each audience member is taken in by some aspect of the performance. Dance-enticing beats, tasteful solos, clever lyrics, theatrical delivery – there is something here for everyone. A group of musicians so serious about not taking themselves seriously is a recipe for the whole room to relax and have some serious fun. That was certainly the case when NYDV headlined a recent variety-pack show at Conundrum Music Hall in West Columbia.
Attempts have been made to define the New York Disco Villains’ sound. Most of their songs are built on a foundation of beats with a 50’s feel that sometimes frenzy themselves up into rockabilly or surf rock. With song subjects that run the gamut of sci-fi and horror movie themes and branch off into other areas (including a possibly unhealthy obsession with William Shatner) NYDV spins playful tales with sing-song chorus hooks. Each song feels like a space adventure or a campy Creature Feature, turning the set into a series of guilty pleasures. Lo-fi organ sounds give the music a carnival feel – the kind of carnival where the clowns turn out to be flesh-eating demons but most everyone gets out alive before the credits roll.
Dedication to creating a spectacle is apparent in every aspect of the New York Disco Villains’ show. The band members are dressed like they just wandered off a film noir set. Hulking drummer Chris Thompson was buried behind a wall of drums, giving the rhythms an air of mystery and his rubber duck a commanding perch. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Maggie Values snuggled into a spot nearby and would frequently pop out with a backing vocal line or harmony, a timely bit of percussion, or the occasional accordion chord. Guitarist Marty Cousins coaxed a restrained fury out of his collection of hollow-bodied guitars, providing a string of rolling, arpeggiated solos that served as counterpoint to the organ and calliope patches favored by keyboardist and lead vocalist Clark Watson. Watson’s easy rapport with the audience kept the feeling light between songs, then he would trigger a track and launch into his kinetic performance. Seated band leaders can make for a staid performance, but Watson uses the keyboard as an anchor point for his head-flailing, keys-punch stage show.
The band’s stage volumes were impressively balanced – not overwhelming Conundrum’s intimately-sized room and leaving plenty of space for Watson’s clearly-delivered lyrics. Loud rock shows have their place, but when the song’s big hook is that it is about fast-driving zombies then the audience wants to hear every word. Tales of the trials of planetary colonization require room to tell. Lyrics that are not drowned out cause the audience to hang on every word of Twilight Zone-esque educational songs about why you should always wash your hands and lock your doors. The New York Disco Villains’ members professionally wove those tales without stepping on each other’s toes.
No review of this show would be complete without a nod to opening act Dreiberg. This two-piece powerhouse set a great tone for the night with their driving rhythms and total command of all tenets of the pop-punk genre. Some of their songs suffered from the sparseness of the instrumentation, but the majority of their tunes made great use of the opportunity to explore rhythmic interplay between guitar and drums.
If you are looking for an unbridled, tongue-in-cheek, good time then you will be hard-pressed to find a better show than having The New York Disco Villains take you on a fun house tour of their world.