Victory At Sea
The Covered Dish, Gainesville, FL • October 29, 1999
Nathan T. Birk
Navel-gazing has been quite the fad for some time now, which is not necessarily a bad thing — unless it comes to the paradigmatic “live experience.” Anyone thinking the trend went out with the British shoegazers in the early ’90s would have done their street credibility some good by attending tonight’s show, featuring one national trend exemplary, Victory At Sea (from New York), and one local one, Argentina (from Gainesville, Florida).
Argentina, though from Gainesville, actually has registered on the national circuit with a brief (but reportedly successful) tour this past summer. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the band has built a steady following around town — the audience’s size and consequent applause all point to this. But is Argentina really worth its weight? More specifically, does the band lock down some uniqueness and/or a memorable live show, or is it merely the scene’s latest “flavor of the week”? Well, yes and no, respectively, but with qualifications. Argentina has no problem in the uniqueness department, and that’s not only because the drummer often simultaneously plays keyboards: think a gentler Fugazi, circa Repeater , covering Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” and its variants. To those not schooled in indie-rock’s microcosms, Argentina might sound like any other band plying the college town house-show trade, but there’s much more going on here. And, presumably, there’s a lot going on inside their heads, like all kinds of turbulent things that compel the trio to stare at their instruments in dour concentration. Hmmm, college…
If Argentina were the undergrads, Victory At Sea would be their frazzled grad-level counterparts. Touring in support of its rainy day-ready second album, The Dark is Just the Night , VAS plotted a course for troubled waters, those ones that stir just enough to nudge you that something’s wrong. Frankly, the trio is just too glum of a bunch to be on a stage, maybe even in any social setting. The band’s doom-saying lullabies perfectly complemented their studied “the end is nigh so let’s just sigh in defeat” stage moves (or lack thereof, hence the title), but only fanatics could have gotten off on the presentation; favorite band be damned, I now know how critics felt during the Cure’s Faith tour in 1981. Doubtless, VAS’s anti-climactic mope-rock is alluring, if not entirely unique, so a few points could be awarded for that. Still, the pallid ambience (courtesy of producer Bob Weston) of the band’s latest record was lacking, but come to think of it, I would’ve had to wear a heavy overcoat if it got any colder during their set.
In sum, the whole show was candy to the ears, but not to the eyes — is there a trade-off here?