June Gloom at The Maltese

“Indie Rock” is a euphemism for weak, tepid drivel, espoused by seekers of a key-ring limelight. The Maltese is the go-to bar for this. I know all about ‘indie’ from opening cross-country for Bright Eyes. Conor Oberst drank a fifth nightly, got his tires slashed and tackled me gayly. North Carolina is the Indie Mecca of the East Coast as Portland is of the West.

There Is No Mountain (formerly known as The Ascetic Junkies) hail from Portland, (at first I thought they were called There Is No Bouncer due to the P.A., which murked all the cutesy asides.) They didn’t get the memo about the gloom motif, and proffered sprightly prog-fusion-pop with Yes-like noodling and inexplicable time changes that belied all rules of comprehensible composition. The Portland-faced scuzz-bearded male of the couple WAS a virtuoso, with the effects boxes to prove it. The gal sang like the “One Tin Soldier” hippie from Billy Jack (flat ‘til the last song), but kept excellent time on a mini tomtom. She also had a mini keyboard (for the bridge of one song) and a mini Vox amp. She did a song called “When The Cat’s Away” about her scuzzy partner staying at his mom’s. And her pushing of their three CDs and the T-shirts (“just leave the money if you can’t stay for the whole set”) was interminable.

I missed most of a solo Chris Keene opener as I had to listen to Dylan’s platinum gloom and grab a burrito next door. Keene had to fly in a Portland drummer for his band. Chris actually had the best set—his listless strumming and clear whining-alto take on Neil Young embodied the resignation aspect of gloom. “I don’t have much energy,” Keene remarked. His songs of substance abuse weren’t as apocalyptic as the Randy Newman closer: “They all hate us anyhow, so let’s drop the big one now.”

Lish Bills was even more lifeless, looking like Bud Cort and Quicksilver’s John Cippolina had a baby. “All your friends are Satan…might as well fry some eggs and bacon.” His voice cracks and goes up an octave at the same time, giving him a signature style. I’d seen him at another Maltese fest, with a twit singing about sticking his finger in various orifices and smelling it, after which a girl sang “I smell dick” to the “sausage fest.”

The Sad Bastards broke with the mid-tempo dirging, but the stupification continued. I felt as though I’d been given a massive dose of propofol, despite their Mighty Wind meets Dan Hicks approach: “Tell me all your dreams in the morning, tell me all your fears at night.” The audience ate it up, the most depressing thing of all. “This FUCKING GUITAR!!… I’m just kidding around…FUCK!” The German birthday-boy frontman tried to wriggle out of the faux pas, then lost it. His prized L-30 archtop did sound like shit (probably a cheap pick-up). They all sang flat to the violin, and yawned. It was contagious. Someone saw the gloom I hadn’t come in with and bought me another sour Pabst.