Nothing can whack you upside the jollies like Grand Champeen opening a set with "Big Slot." The first track on their most recent recording, 2003's The One That Brought You, is the only thing that wakes me up at 5 a.m. (You don't want to know.) Incredibly, some in the Plush crowd were still in their seats at the end of it; one can only conclude they were stunned.
The band leapt and vaulted, vanquished their instruments and beamed good fun throughout a set dominated by brand-new material. The new songs will see light in their next release, to be announced. Meanwhile, they took to the road with Two Cow Garage for 12 dates to keep the skids greased.
Though they performed with the energy of 19-year-olds, Grand Champeen have been together 16 years, and it shows in their mastery of melody, dynamics, musicianship and hooks galore. The drummer keeps time like a Patek Philippe, enabling some of the most challenging arrangements in indie rock today. Just slower than speed pop; grittier and less sugary than pure pop; loud as metal; thoughtful as art pop; Grand Champeen's music seemed to come from heaven on a rainbow, just to make us jump up and down on Saturday night.
Ohio's Two Cow Garage kept the energy level stratospheric with a rollicking set of factory-belt rock from their second release, 2004's The Wall Against Our Back. Sounding like a cross between Steve Earle and Rod Stewart, Micah Schnabel played lead clown as well as lead guitar and vocals, bantering frequently with the crowd and giving repeated props to Grand Champeen.
In a new song about a factory town, the band mimicked the frontal attack of Lynyrd Skynyrd, but the rest of the set was entirely unpretentious, like the garage band next door, only with chops. The playing was solid, just a latitude north of Southern rock, and the songs put them in a class with Slobberbone and Drive By Truckers.
Grand Champeen's Channing Lewis joined in the last song of the night, which after some spectacular guitar fireworks deconstructed into a free-for-all of feedback and outright stage wrestling. At one point, all four musicians were on their backs with the squall of guitars bouncing from every wall.
It's the energy, and the fun, that counts with these bands. At the end of the night, not one frown made its way to Fourth Avenue.