You kids may not believe it, but back in the '80s what we called alternative-rock really was an alternative to the mainstream. The music and attitudes of that era were alive Wednesday as the inspiration for two U.K. acts that made dynamic--though quite distinctive--arrivals at the Knitting Factory Hollywood.
Scotland's Idlewild is an earnest quintet owing equally to early R.E.M. and Psychedelic Furs, while England's Brassy showed a brash 'n' brainy cross of do-it-yourself punk a la Bush Tetras and X-Ray Specs with primitive hip-hop-pop recalling Young MC and Tone Loc. Both use the past as a jumping-off point for looking forward, not back.
Idlewild's mix was the less imaginative of the two, but Wednesday it got by on pure energy and conviction. Singer Roddy Woomble's grin bespoke genuine innocence that allowed forgiveness for the blatant Michael Stipe quality of his lyrics and sometimes tortured wordplay. Ditto for guitarist Rod Jones' leaping and squirming, boosting the songs' rush above that of the band's new debut album "100 Broken Windows"--though not enough to rank with top U.K. buzz bands Coldplay and Doves quite yet.
Brassy is just that. Fronted by compelling New York expatriate Muffin Spencer (sister of the Blues Explosion's Jon Spencer), it was Luscious Jackson gone tough--choppy cheerleader cadences and cockiness, but without bluster. Spencer floated easily between a steely bray and a high coo, often mimicking a "Bust a Move"-type vocal loop, but without gimmicks--just as drummer Jonny Barrington (a.k.a. DJ Swett) easily shifted between his kit and a turntable for scratching. "Who stole the show?" sang Spenser, then answered herself, "We did, you know." Indeed.