by Sam Houghton
Lead singer and guitarist O.J. San Felipe of the X Ray Eyeballs tries really hard. He spits liquids into zealous photographers, hops up on the bass drum, and screams out his lyrics with popping neck veins and all that good stuff – everything you could hope for in a punk rock frontman. But despite all of his riveting gimmicks, he gives the impression of a pesky dolt juxtaposed to the rest of his band. Sadly, his band appears as if they were rustled out of a nursing home, or perhaps they were popping Quaaludes in the dressing room prior to the set – they seem just plain bored with the music. Yet upon further inquire, the mask of ennui is merely a cover-up for that which all groups posing as punk bands should stay clear of: Fear. Punk rock is all about passion, and a scared punk band might suggest that their passion is lacking – contrived rather than earned. Midway through their show at Death by Audio last week, at a pivotal juncture in a song, the bass player looked me square in the eyeballs. I have no more reservations with eye contact than the next guy, but the look came off as pure panic on the part of the musician. She seemed to be questioning her existence on the stage instead of “feeling” the beat. The look was comparable to a stiff B actor casting a sidewise glance into the camera, which is funny on Days of Our Lives, but this is the Brooklyn music scene where we take our live shows seriously. And their music embodied the bands awkwardness on stage: there wasn’t much passion behind it and felt contrived. Perhaps I am too harsh, but when a band receives this much attention (solid reviews even from Pitchfork), gets signed to a newly flourishing label (Kanine), and headlines some great Indie venues (Knitting Factory, DbyA), one should pose the question why? Is there not some corporate gimmicks happening behind our backs. The truth of the matter is that bands can often nail down some wicked hooks and beats, but when it comes to performing, they come up limp. In the age of the internet and mediafire, and unfortunately for the Eyeballs, the live act is what will carry a band.