Three things you might learn about Art Brut during one of their shows: they are undeniably a comedy act; being a comedy act entails much more than shallow japery; and it’s not hard to laugh and dance simultaneously. Professional fools will always be granted an audience in every kind of throne room there is, and in the self-serious courts of indie rock, they are especially welcome. Last night’s show at New York City’s Mercury Lounge was their second of a five-night stand in support of their latest album, Art Brut vs. Satan, and if you enjoy them remotely through your tinny laptop speakers, you will enjoy their sly, candid camaraderie infinitely more in a live setting.
After greeting the crowd with an amiable hello, the band played through nearly all of their most memorable songs. By the time they launched into “Moving to L.A.,” the crowd of mostly thirtysomethings began livening up, their beer-clutching hands saluting Art Brut’s punk vigor. The band members clearly love what they do; at one point Argos even pointed at his fellow bandmates and said, “Look at the smile on their faces. Look at how much fun this is!” Rhythm guitarist Jeff Future beamed throughout most of the set, between songs exhorting the crowd to cheer with a finger aimed skyward, and mustachioed drummer Mikey Breyer refused to sit down while playing. They weathered some mic problems during the ironic lament “Demons Out,” with singer Eddie Argos commenting that their technical difficulties resulted from their battle against Satan. There was a group-hug moment during the extended bridge of “Bad Weekend,” during which Argos explained that everyone in attendance was a de facto member of the band.
A few songs deep into the observational humor and scene lampooning, it became clear that Argos directs his jabs toward himself as often as he does toward indie pomposity. He possesses a shaggy charisma that he uses to invest his performance with a sense of nostalgic yearning: having experienced life’s varied pleasures, he longs for the purity of adolescence, before hangovers and sexual disappointments; he plays off a song like “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes” with a holy innocence; he likes the Ramones (the band covered “The KKK Took My Baby Away”) and riding the train. It began to make sense why the band’s accompanying music, though rarely bland, occasionally feels anonymous: it’s that pure punk sound, unencumbered by the demands of being “interesting.” So, yes, there’s some resignation inherent, but the group’s self-effacing humor creates a kind of safe zone for those feelings, especially apparent when you realize just how many lyrics refer to using rock music as a buffer between the self and the real world.