My first dose of jangle was The Beatles’ version of Buddy Holly’s “Words of Love,” featuring the gloriously ringing, almost bagpipey licks of George Harrison’s Gretsch Tennessean. It was on a record called Beatles VI, or “Beatles Vee Eye,” as we pronounced it, and I’ve loved that trebly stuff ever since. The weekend before last, I got to indulge my love of jangle over a steamy, couch-crashing three days in Brooklyn for NYC Popfest, now in its seventh year spotlighting “jangling, fuzzy, twee and indie pop bands.” As much as that description nails my sweet spot, I don’t get back to New York all that often because of logistics, parental duties and other forms of reality. But this year, two of the headliners made it a must-do proposition.
One was The Monochrome Set, a London quartet that began in the mid-’70s and whose sound has been likened (by me) to Noel Coward singing surf music. They were never a big deal here, but when you mention them to music geeks, they know. The other band was Close Lobsters, who formed a decade after the Set, in Paisley, Scotland. Despite strong reviews and ample college radio play in the late ’80s, when you mention Close Lobsters these days, the geeks tend to just stare. (The band’s decade-plus hiatus didn’t help matters.)
The Lobsters, whose music was not the least bit crustacean, touched me on a deeper level. Where the Monochrome’s default setting was cheeky, the Lobsters’ was yearning. I remain a little of both, but in those days, on my way through an urban downpour en route to my crappy temp job, it’d be the Lobsters’ Byrds-channeling “Skyscrapers” I’d be singing along to.
On paper, the chorus reads kind of silly: “Will you be caught with your pants down/ Or move on a step or two?” But in the song’s glinting light, these lines have always felt like a gentle but very real challenge, the suggestion of a wise older brother. Hearing those words sung by a chorus of fans at high volume made for a truly ravishing moment.
Then it was done. I had seen, reveled in and sung along with Close Lobsters, experienced their corporeality, snagged the last available T-shirt. I also got away with a damn good iPhone shot of the band, smeared just right and capturing each member in a solid attitude of commitment. Back in the Triangle, I posted it on the Lobsters fan page and sighed as I returned to a life not suffused by jangle-fuzz and indie twee.
A day later I got a note from Andrew Burnett, the main man behind Close Lobsters, in response to the photo and the note I’d written.
“We find ourselves in the situation that our ‘fans’ are small in number,” he wrote. “However, this makes it possible for us to really appreciate their enthusiasm and the inspiration that leads from it. We were humbled and delighted at the response of the audience on Saturday. The vibes you speak of are very much reciprocated.”
What Is There To Smile About? is the title of the second record by Close Lobsters. Last weekend, as I swayed among the ironic T-shirts and chunky glassesjust a stone’s throw from Brooklyn’s latest oysters-and-absinthe jointthere was plenty to smile about. And there still is.