(Music review by The Kid)
A few weeks ago I bemoaned the lack of national touring acts making their way to Indianapolis. I wrote about that, in part, because of a band that I liked, Aberdeen City had a current tour that skipped Indy. Recently I found myself surprised to see that Aberdeen City now planned on stopping by Indianapolis but even more surprised at the venue: The Ugly Monkey.
Those familiar with the downtown bars surely must know about The Ugly Monkey and its checkered past. It opened a few years back in Union Station right next to the Slippery Noodle. When it first open the city touted The Ugly Monkey as yet another step at getting Union Station financially solvent. Indianapolis Union Station is simply a beautiful building but had fallen on hard times. It opened in the early nineties as a festival market place then closed after Circle Centre Mall opened a few blocks up Meridian. Union Station sat dormant for years with an assortment of ideas floating around to put it to good use, including converting it to a parking garage. The city finally settled on having a wide assortment of tenants including non-profits, a school, businesses and the curiously named bar, the Ugly Monkey.
Things didn't work so well between the bar and the city. In fact the city eventually attempted to terminate it lease when, in its opinion, the bar encouraged some bawdy behavior of its customers. I am not sure what the city thought would happen in a bar named after an unattractive primate but the end result involved the bar moving to a new location. It is now at Illinois and South Street, across from the Greyhound station and next to a leather store and another bar called The Whistle Stop In.
Having stumbled upon the fact that the band would play at the Ugly Monkey through the band’s web site, I went over and checked out The Ugly Monkey’s web address. I was surprised to find that not only did the bar have this band playing Thursday but they had live music five days a week. Now whenever I found myself in the mood for a shot given by a little person then followed up by spin in a barber’s chair, I would head to the Monkey post haste. But live music? I would never claim that I am extremely well versed in the music scene in the city but I have a better than average grasp of the social scene and I hadn’t a clue that the new incarnation of the Ugly Monkey featured live music.
This past Thursday I ventured to the Monkey to see the band. Torpor’s Angola, Indiana correspondent, Sly Riptide (yes, there is a story behind the name), joined me. Also long time Torpor commenter, the Brick, met up with us as well. Torpor himself would join later that evening after completing other commitments.
Sly Riptide and I arrived first and headed right for the Monkey. The Monkey’s web site and the flyers on the front door indicated that the doors opened at 7 PM with the band taking the stage at 8 PM. A total of four bands, including Aberdeen City, would play for a great price: five bucks. Before I came I looked on Aberdeen’s web site and that price was by far the cheapest on its tour. Even the unfortunate souls who find themselves living in Dayton, Ohio would have to slap down six dollars to see the band. Sly Riptide and I arrived at the bar at 7:20 PM.
The new Monkey consists of essentially two rooms. The front part is the bar while the back part appears to be where they would have a DJ or for tonight’s purposes, its live music. In the front part of the bar sat one customer, his head on the bar and a Corona in his hands. We headed right for the back and were greeted by the bouncer. After looking over Sly and myself the first words out of his mouth were “You guys playing tonight.” We politely told him no and that we were there to see the bands. They were still trying to get the equipment situated and told us to come back at 8 PM for the show.
After meeting up with Brick and dealing with a series of misadventures at the bar next door, we decided to get some food. Still on a strict schedule we thought we had little choice but to hit one of the fast food restaurants on South Street. White Castle hit the spot although I had never been to that restaurant in that part of the city so early.
We returned to the Monkey at 8:15PM and found that the equipment was still being put up. We ventured down to another bar got a drink and then returned. The music finally began at 9:15 PM.
The first band that night was Ezra Furman and the Harpoons. They consisted of four members, including the lead singer Ezra himself. During the set, the lead singer wore cheap black sunglasses the whole time that would have fit well in a John Hughes film from the eighties. A couple of songs into their set the lead singer mentioned that they were from out of town and that they were looking for a place to stay. I thought this was a running gag of the show but at the end of the band’s set when he made it very clear that they didn’t have a place to stay and they really needed one I figured that these guys weren’t kidding. With only six people in attendance during their set, the law of averages probably played against them. I don’t know where those poor fools from Chicago stayed that night.
The lead singer has a very distinctive voice that took some getting used to. His voice sounded on par with the lead singer of the Violent Femmes and Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah. Notwithstanding the initial acclimation to the sound, the band sounded great. The lyrics were sharp and very humorous at times. The highlight for me was the last song of the night “Halloween Snow”. The song is about a couple that boards a plane to go to Japan to get married. The couple figures out mid-flight that they are not heading to the right place. In fact they realize that they are really on a plane to Zaire. The lyrics give the perspective of each with the lady wondering if she can love a person so careless while the guy wonders whether or not he could love someone who couldn’t make the best of the situation.
After the band finished its set, the lead singer informed the small crowd that they had CDs available for purchase. When the lead singer was near me I gave him a thumbs up sign and told him I enjoyed his set. He then asked me if I wanted to buy a CD and I told him yes. His response was “really” as if he couldn’t believe it. Not only did I buy the CD but also it hasn’t left my CD player since Thursday. The CD features twelve songs and although the packaging leaves a little to be desired, for eight bucks it was a steal. I certainly hope that these guys find a larger audience because after seeing them on Thursday and listening to their CD for several days now I can’t wait to see them live again.
All four of us ventured outside after Torpor arrived. The third band of the night and the band we came to see, Aberdeen City, began playing at 11 PM.
Aberdeen City is a band out of Boston with four members. They consist of Brad Parker on bass and vocals, Ryan Heller on guitar, Rob McCaffrey on drums, and Chris McLaughlin on guitar. Their sound is along the lines of a harder edge band. They have a couple of songs in rotation on Sirius’ Left of Center and according to Sly, are in heavy rotation on Tri-State University’s college radio station up North.
They opened the show with the opening track on their debut “The Freezing Atlantic”. The song, “Another Seven Years” is one of the highlights of the disk and I was not disappointed with it live. Later, after a couple of songs into their set the lead singer thanked the band Army of Me, also on the bill, for letting them go third instead of fourth on the bill. The signer indicated that they had some technical problems that necessitated them going on earlier than planned. I don’t think I ever figured out what the technical problems was but I would venture it was because one of the guitarist was so damn strung out (as Brick put it he looked like Clay Aiken on acid). That being said, this “technical problem” did not affect the band’s sound one bit. They put on a great show for far too few people.
During the set, about fifteen spectators were present, including two members of Torpor favorite Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos. As a result getting a seat wasn’t an ordeal. About five songs into the set, the drink specials had taken their toll. When I left to use the facilities I had to leave the back part of the bar. Once I made it to the front of the Monkey I noticed the song “Pina Colada” being sung in an off key voice. When I went up to the front of the bar I couldn’t believe that on the same night as the bar featured live music that the biggest pull in the bar was karaoke up front.
The band concluded their set with the last song on the record “Mercy”. Before beginning the song the lead singer mentioned that the song was about Boston. This got a friendly banter from the crowd, as a Yankee fan was clearly present. After a friendly correction by the lead singer that the song was not about the Red Sox but the city of Boston, the band ripped the song with intensity disproportionate to the amount of people who came to see them that night. The song rocked with one of the guitarist taking his guitar up and down a metal pole to aid in the instrument’s distortion and the lead signer getting out some sort of cowbell for additional sound. The band ended their set at about midnight and I was very pleased from a spectator’s standpoint with their performance. The live show matched the quality of their excellent debut CD.
First and foremost, Ugly Monkey deserves a lot of credit for putting on live music. If Thursday night is any indication, this can’t be a big money earner for them. I asked our waitress how many they expect on a busy music night and she told me between thirty to forty attendees. For a five buck cover and a drink special of three dollar you call its, it is a great deal for a person to see live music, especially a band with some, albeit at this point small, national stature such as Aberdeen City. However, the Monkey might want to consider a little more advertising. I am unaware of the Monkey advertising outside its web site or flyers posted at its bar. Our waitress informed us that the bar advertised on some radio station in the city but she couldn’t recall which one and she added whatever one it was, it was a very small station. Getting the word out will aid in getting downtown Indy an additional venue to see live music for some time to come.
Aberdeen City noted that they will return to Indianapolis on August 10th but they didn’t say where they were playing. Their web site is silent as to their August dates. When Torpor catches wind of it, we will give some notice. They are definitely worthy seeing even at Dayton, Ohio prices.
You can access the live music line of the Ugly Monkey at this web address
You can learn more about Ezra Furman and the Harpoons at their site
or their myspace
page. According to their myspace page, you have to contact them through their myspace page to buy their CD.
You can access Aberdeen City’s web site at Aberdeen City
or their myspace
page. You can get their CD at Amazon