@ Mercury Lounge
Buzzed on Hype
“These guys are going to be huge, you can just feel it.” Bristling with conviction, the forty-ish Londoner standing next to me at the Mercury Lounge seemed to embody the furor around UK rockers Tribes. He was visiting New York on business and considered himself very fortunate to see the Island Records-signed quartet in one of their first US appearances. “All my mates back home are so jealous,” he crowed.
Drummer Miguel Demelo settled in behind his kit wearing a Melvins t-shirt as the house DJ blasted The Clash and Motörhead. There was something in the air alright, but it might not have been a premonition of greatness so much as the dizzying elixir that is British music hype. It’s very hard to get that stuff past Customs, but there’s nothing like it in the world.
Still, a Melvins shirt is always a good sign and the rest of the Camden-based band had a promising look. Guitarist Dan White wore plaid pants replete with unnecessary grommets and straps. Under ordinary circumstances pants like that are a juvenile mall punk cliche, but White wore them well. On him they seemed like a charming quirk, or even a trend in the making, a la the current vogue for creepers. Frontman Johnny Lloyd, in blousey top and bed head, looked appropriately like an art student circa 1986.
His look was appropriate to the way Tribes evoked the energy of late ’80s and early ’90s college rock with heartbreaking accuracy through feedback and slack power chords. The beery power pop of “Girlfriend,” for one, had clap-along catchiness to rival The Gin Blossoms. In general, the melodies are falsely familiar, with the frightening power to bring back nostalgic memories you don’t actually have.
One of Tribes’s claims to buzz band status is the fact that after a year or two in existence they have already opened for The Pixies. They definitely have enough raw, meaty hooks to please a fan of The Pixies, or, apparently, Frank Black himself. If they write songs with hummable choruses, they aren’t afraid to add in wailing leads, weighty bass, and a fair amount of dissonance.
But there’s a subtle, distinctly English flavoring that blunts their assault. There’s a bit of Brit pop in their colorful chords and even their most lumbering, sludgy number is leavened by reverb, tremolo, and cascading backing vocals. Some moments smacked of arty UK bands like The Stone Roses, moments when my eyes were drawn inexorably toward my shoes. I didn’t fight it.
All this makes them worthy of the love and attention they’ve been getting from NME, the BBC, Radio 1, and English music fans in general. But Tribes’s unusual focus on lyrics and willingness to make theirs intelligible is the reason they could, indeed, be huge, and why they really deserve to be. Lloyd’s lyrics — delivered in a plummy but unvarnished voice — are the kind you can identify with, get lost in, and yell along with. The kind with the potential to make you get misty decades later if you hear them in a drug store. Think Bruce Springsteen or R.E.M.
Maybe it’s the slightly dreamy quality to their music, but they seemed at times like a spectral band materializing from another era, some gifted yet obscure group that went tragically unsung in their day. However, when the members of Tribes belted out the bittersweet chorus to “We Were Children” they were a very real band, one palpably thrilled to be alive and onstage at that moment. You could see it in their grins. Whatever that thing in the air was, they could feel it too.
All photos credit MTV Iggy/Jose Marquez