OK, even if they come from the same city and have the same producer, Silkworm is still not Nirvana. But in a better world, they'd have the same commercial success (or maybe even more).
Four extremely nice guys from Seattle, Silkworm plays what you might call "thinking-man's grunge," grinding (and sometimes sloppy) punk/pop/rock with a twisted sense of humor (stemming from the band's skewed lyrics, which you might not even catch if you're not playing close enough attention).Opening their first major tour Thursday night at Salt Lake's Bar & Grill (a tune-up for an even more extensive tour following the release of their "In the West" LP this January), Silkworm surprised the small crowd with their challenging punk/pop (even this critic, who had already been at least somewhat impressed with the three-song sampler their record company has been sending out).
Each of the band's guitarists (rhythm and lead guitarists Andy Cohen and Joel Phelps, as well as bass guitarist Tim Midgett) write and sing, having played with the others for nearly a decade. But Silkworm reflects each singer's separate personalities.
- The edgy "Garden City Blues" recalled early XTC or Talking Heads in its neurotic tension, with Midgett's frayed vocals twisting the tension almost uncomfortably.
- Phelps' swirling "Dremate" started hypnotically, with droning (almost chanted vocal) vocal harmonies. But it ended with a roar, as Michael Dahlquist actually knocked over part of his drum kit in his enthusiastic skin-pounding.
- "Inside Out" neatly tied Husker Du-ish punk-pop with an almost bluesy air (not too surprising on the former, since Cohen resembles no one so much as an emaciated Bob Mould, that band's former leader).
It's hard to believe that a band this talented could have taken so long to get signed to even an independent record label (although they did release a debut effort, "L'Ajre," on their own imprint), especially when they seemingly have it all together - great chemistry and great musicianship and somewhat incomprehensible lyrics (which has never held back a band from commercial and critical success before - the Rolling Stones and the Beatles come prominently to mind).
Take, for example, Midgett's "Slipstream," which contains snide asides like "Take a look at what you see/Don't you think you can do a little better?" alongside such puzzlers as "The pretty pink champagne dress/Crackling like watercress on you."
Silkworm even came dressed for success, wearing two-piece suits with ties (except Dahlquist, who shed his clothes down to socks, shoes and paisley boxer shorts) that made them look more like nerdy science teachers or businessmen rather than musicians.
San Francisco's Lost Pilgrims were also a surprise, playing folky, funky, punky pop that resembled the Violent Femmes at times (especially with their loving use of '50s-styled rock 'n' roll).
Pilgrims guitarists Ken Gould and Martin Kaplan also share singing and songwriting chores, often resulting in such unexpected delights as Kaplan's "Willy Wonka" and Gould's "Nothing the Weatherman Knows," both showing a winking, self-effacing sense of humor that was as endearing as their hapless dancing.
Locals Birdman opened the show and seemingly had the most problems with the makeshift P.A. organizers had to use (which didn't seem to bother the others). However, their poppy hardcore had a solid rock base, and the fill-in drummer they used was much more competent than other band members gave him credit for.