Volume 20 Issue 12 | August. 3 - 9, 2007


Robbers on Bowery

By Jaya Saxena

The new Robbers on High Street album, and their album-release show at Bowery Ballroom, put me in a contemplative mood about the state of modern rock music. Lately it seems that nothing original is being produced. Today’s retro-chic garage rockers tend to mimic greats like The Rolling Stones or The Kinks (or even contemporaries like Franz Ferdinand or The Libertines) instead of just drawing inspiration from them. The Brooklyn-based trio Robbers on High Street falls into this trap, creating fun, catchy songs that are satisfying to listen to but never really leave a mark.

There are some standouts on the new album, Grand Animals, which shows off the band’s britpop influence nicely (a surprise considering these boys are from Poughkeepsie). They bring in a funky vibe with songs like “You Don’t Stand a Chance” and “Kick ‘Em in the Shins,” shining out in a collection of vaguely enjoyable but similar indie tracks. I was constantly asking myself which Spoon/Dandy Warhols/Arctic Monkeys song I was being reminded of.

But where their album drags, their live show energizes. They started with a setup unlike anything I had expected from the recordings, which looked as if they had hijacked the Decemberists’ instrument collection. They waltzed their way through the first number with a trombone, a mandolin and a bass drum, even bringing out a melodica on occasion. Eventually they changed back to their five-piece setup, but still occasionally surprised with a smattering of trumpet or trombone. The danceable “Nasty Numbers” got most of the crowd moving, as did “The Ramp.” Though the intro sounded like a middle school piano recital, it’s an amusing narrative about a street brawl and a deathbed visit from Leonardo DiCaprio.

The songs sounded familiar, but ROHS played well and with passion. Lead singer Ben Trokan smiled mischievously through the act, with a clear enthusiasm for showmanship and a dedication to get everyone in the crowd to have as good of a time as he was having. For an audience most likely used to shoe-gazing performances, their lively show was a welcome change. And isn’t having fun what rock is really about?

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