Smile Politely

Solid gold in a plain brown wrapper:  Generationals at Courtyard Cafe

gen1RIYL: Squeeze.

In shoveling out our rock in-box at WEFT, always overflowing with a bewildering number of CDs, this unlikely selling point drew our attention to the inconspicuous CD the promoter had pinned it to: Con Law, by Generationals.

By the first listen, we knew we had hit gold.

And when we published a good review for Smile Politely, we got a thank-you directly from Generationals themselves: a sign we had found something important and new enough that our appreciation could make a difference (and yours).

We’ve liked and disliked a lot of music. This CD seemed to come out of nowhere, but brought with it traditions of catchy songcraft ranging from Badfinger through contemporary electronica, with lots of scenic stops along the way.

When we had the chance to see their first C-U performance at the Courtyard Cafe, we didn’t know what to expect. According to the cover of Con Law, which they are touring to promote, there are two band members. And yet the album is full of clever arrangements featuring layers of harmonies, guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, horns, and who knows what. The record sounds meticulous but not slick. The songs have a jaded excellence that suggest British musicians well into their 30s. Yet, compared to what we were expecting, Grant Widmer and Ted Joyner, to our surprise, look fresh out of high school (but their age is probably somewhere in between). 

gen2The recording duo has put together a touring quartet with Tess Brunet on drums and backing vocals, and Michael Libramento on keyboards, backing vocals, and occasional bass guitar. Working through problems with the P.A., they performed to a sparse but appreciative audience at a woefully underpromoted show (welcome to the Courtyard Cafe, guys — although WPGU plays Generationals every morning, they seemed unaware the band was coming to town until we called them and suggested they mention the fact). The low turnout was surprising considering the substantial promotional efforts put forth by WPGU, WEFT, and Smile Politely.

Generationals did not disappoint and delivered great live versions of their impeccably infectious studio creation.

The band rung in the show with the jangly guitar and singalong chorus of “Exterior Street Day.” There were a few sound issues, including badly mixed monitors and a humming sound that distracted Brunet. As reviewers, we know these things happen, and that it takes guts to perform (even more so with technical difficulties). But Generationals stopped to work it out with the sound guys, then soldiered on graciously and politely. With “Nobody Could Change Your Mind,” they seemed to find their footing.

The vibe was loose and informal. Grant and Ted sported similar button-down shirts, jeans, shaggy hair, and even movements (though Cristy saw in Grant a George Harrison mop-top stance, accented by his oversized guitar). There were no solos, no posturing, no hipsteronics. A casual virtuosity and a relaxed professionalism was apparent in the way they traded instruments, respected the bands they were touring with, and delivered the goods. The show is actually difficult to write about, because the band didn’t smear personality over everything — they just got up and played their best.

sb2The show’s high point included the perfect bonbon of girl group goodness, “When They Fight They Fight,” a song that showcases Ted’s upbeat, high voice. (Cristy: In fact, it reminded me of Yes’s Jon Anderson. And I don’t care what y’all say about Yes. They rule).

Grant’s excellent singing is more somber, emphasized beautifully with “Wildlife Sculpture.” Instead of the cute electro-pop version on Con Law, live Generationals rendered it almost morose, in a slower, spacier manner. The dangers of living alone have never sounded more dangerous.

The band played two new songs in their short set, and really hit their stride with “Angry Charlie,” the finale. We wish they could’ve played longer, because it seemed like they just kept rocking harder with each song.

Generationals were very keen about the headlining act, Spinto Band. While William spoke to Grant about the formation of Generationals and making of Con Law (listen to the attached interview below), Cristy enjoyed the Spinto show thoroughly.

Our interview with Grant Widmer of Generationals:

sbThe Spinto Band opened with a cover: “I Think We’re Alone Now” (Tommy James and the Shondells’ version — NOT Tiffany’s), and continued their manic, psycho-pop that featured copious amounts of pogo-hopping up and down, headbanging in unison, and clarinet (imagine Of Montreal when they were good, before Kevin Barnes decided to channel his inner sexaholic praying mantis). And Cristy walked away with a new crush, the Stewart Copeland-like drummer. (Cristy: Seriously. The guy did percussion razor-sharp. The only things missing were the short-shorts and athletic socks.)

As a final note, we would like to extend our apologies to Pepi Ginsburg for missing her portion of the show (Cristy had class until 8 p.m.). We heard she was wonderful. If anyone saw her, let us know how it was!

Related Articles