Sunday, May 23

Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay was having a bad night.

He said as much in a long introduction to "Don't Be Afraid of Your Anger," from the band's 2001 The Ghost of Fashion. He said he had texted a friend earlier about his anger, and her advice was, "Kill them with kindness." He failed to take it.

It's not that he didn't try. He kept repeating what a lovely day it was, as if it were an affirmation or a chant. At one point, he allowed that it was a "perfect ending to a long, hot day in Tucson."

The crowd itself was also a downer. Plush was less than a quarter full, and the audience response was tepid. They stood so far back from the stage that at one point, Barzelay called them on it. He clearly needed their energy to get him through. When he didn't get it, he essentially phoned in the set.

It must be said, though, that an automated 411 operator could sing Barzelay's songs and sound amazing; they're that good. The lyrics are smart and breathtakingly insightful, and the melodies and arrangements are, if not exactly groundbreaking, at least unpredictable, yet within the taste range of an enlightened indie-rock fan.

Instead of hammering away at songs from the band's 2010 release, The Meat of Life, Barzelay mixed things up with tunes like "I Wasn't Really Drunk," from his 2006 solo album Bitter Honey, and "Tiny European Cars," from Clem Snide's 2005 End of Love.

Finally, though, I'd had enough. Most people in the room were listening, attentively and respectfully, and they'd paid good money to stand where they pleased. Perhaps Barzelay should have shown some appreciation instead of treating the crowd as antagonists. Most seemed to be diehard fans.

Consider, contrastingly, the graciousness of the Heligoats, for whom the crowd was even smaller. The opening act was well-served by a sense of humor and perspective. And their music was delightful, in a way that blended the musical adventurousness of The Decemberists with the offhanded charm of Jules Shear.

Unlike Clem Snide, the Heligoats left town with more fans than they came in with.

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