Let Me Entertain You: Pomplamoose @ World Cafe Live 6.22.11
There is a sizeable difference between a concert that is ‘bad’ and one that is ‘not enjoyable.’ An outright bad show usually features a hostile or apathetic performer, a poorly constructed setlist or any combination of unforeseen and ill-timed circumstances. I’ve been to plenty of those (though you won’t read about too many of them here, since they’re not much fun to recall), but concerts that I did not personally enjoy occupy a mercifully miniscule place in my experiences. Concerts themselves already sit at a baffling crossroad between being private events and public gatherings. To feel like an outsider at a ticketed event furthers that conundrum, and it left me feeling confused, a little angry and far from being entertained.
Gaining viral fame through their self-consciously quirky ‘videosongs,’ California’s Pomplamoose are, themselves, caught between a few major crossroads. Bassist/singer Nataly Dawn and her energetic counterpart, multi-instrumentalist Jack Conte, have been at their very specific game for a little over three years. Best known (to most, anyway) for their stripped-down and spliced-up takes on unlikely covers, Pomplamoose could carry on quite handsomely as little more than a novelty cover band. Like a group who does weddings that insists on writing their own material, most of Pomplamoose’s recorded output is largely comprised of original jazz-pop. I say ‘original’ only to differentiate the songs they wrote from their celebrated covers, as the mostly non-cover set featured one generic and ultimately forgettable tune after another. Dawn and Conte, as well as their three-piece accompanying band, are frustratingly adept at playing their instruments, but their own material falls far from their skillful renditions of other people’s songs. As much as I was less than moved by their performance, I was nearly as perplexed by how positively the surprisingly large audience was responding.
I’ve long ago come to accept that every band is somebody’s favorite band, but the notion still mystifies me. The people who came to see Pomplamoose were diehard fans. They knew the references to jokes from their webcasts, all the lyrics to their songs and collectively cracked up at each small facial gesture. These were big fans of a small band, and not being one of them was very unsettling. I tried to come up with a reason for why Pomplamoose have such a devoted following. The people who were in the crowd, many of whom were under 21, were most likely not fans of who I would consider major bands of the indie rock world. Earlier this year, the Arcade Fire proved themselves to be major players, even outside of the indie world, but still Pomplamoose and their fans exist in an unattainable bubble. The problem is best explained by the band’s mere presence in a series of holiday-themed Hyundai commercials. Pomplamoose are unusual enough to get noticed, but they don’t come loaded with any kind of political or ideological burden. They are safe, and safe sells. Clearly.