Rock Times Two
Brooklyn's Babe the Blue Ox and SoCal's Lit combine for a double bill at the Vanderbilt
LIT AND BABE the Blue Ox share the same record label, RCA. Both bands formed about nine years ago. Both have songs in regular rotation on local radio - Lit's "My Own Worst Enemy" and Babe's "Basketball" - and both are playing WLIR's / 92.7 FM April Fools' Ball at the Vanderbilt on Thursday.
Yet for all the similarities, the two bands represent divergent elements of the modern rock world. Babe the Blue Ox is a prototypical indie rock trio from Brooklyn. The band's songs celebrate the simple pleasures and challenges of life, like making a perfect pass on the basketball court or trying to make it on time for a date while taking the delay-plagued F train.
With a gruff, bass voice, Babe singer Tim Thomas tells odd stories about the overabundance of restaurant chains or life on the road in a tour bus. His understated, dirty guitar licks blanket the playful, funky rhythms cooked up by bassist Rose Thomson and drummer Hannah Fox. They're happy to just keep making records, even if they never cash in. "Our goals have never been to be rock stars," Fox says. "It's been dangled in front of us for the past year or two." But the idea of making a living as a musician "has been very attractive to me."
The members of Lit, on the other hand, are already living like rock stars. They're an all-boys club from Orange County, Calif., making the kind of immediately accessible, punchy rock-pop that gets a room jumping within seconds. Guitarist Jeremy Popoff says the band's songs about troubled relationships, wild behavior and gleaming vintage cars reflect the quartet's lifestyle.
"A day in the life of Lit is not a whole lot different than watching [the movie] `Swingers,' " says Popoff, who has tattoos and pierced eyebrows and peppers his conversation with superlatives such as "awesome," "stoked" and "killer." "We just have this real connection with Las Vegas and the '30s and '40s big bands and the whole Rat Pack era."
Which means that Popoff and his bandmates - also including his brother, singer A. Jay Popoff, bassist Kevin Baldes and drummer Allen Shellenberger - know how to have fun. It's something they share with other smash bands from Orange County, such as Korn, Offspring, No Doubt and Reel Big Fish. Each band has a radically different sound, but they've all tapped into something that kids across the country understand.
"We're not depressed guys," Jeremy Popoff says, further distancing Lit from the legacy of mopey grunge rock. "We've got everyday songs, about gambling or chicks or cars. Being from Orange County, that's what we know about. We're not very poetic. That's why I think we're getting such great reaction."
So it comes down to whether you like the big, brassy blast of Lit or the playful, personal pop of Babe the Blue Ox. Either way, both bands are after the same thing: making a connection that lasts.
Babe's song "Basketball" is the perfect expression of that, Fox says. The song grew out of Thomas's love of neighborhood hoops, where he found it hard to be anything other than a klutz in the clutch. The song, however, focuses on the moment where he's finally playing in the zone.
"Hopefully, the meaning goes beyond just a simple game of basketball," she says. "Where you're just stumbling along and doing what you can and all of a sudden you have this incredible moment of grace and beauty."
Thursday's show also marks the return of the Vanderbilt, Long Island's most expensive flop of a nightclub. Previous owners bankrupted the building in September and the Vanderbilt has since been bought by the Morey Organization, which also owns WLIR / 92.7 FM. Though the Moreys will operate the massive space mainly as a catering hall, they will also occasionally present concerts.
LIT & BABE THE BLUE OX. At the WLIR / 92.7 FM April Fool's Ball, Thursday at 9 p.m. at The Vanderbilt, 1600 Round Swamp Rd., Plainview, 516-694-6200. Admission is $10 through The Vanderbilt box office or Ticketmaster.
- by Isaac Guzman