THE CONSTANTINES, BLACK EAGLE, DJ FRANKI CHAN
Graceland, 381-3094, $3 9 p.m. Mon., May 13
WHEN THE Constantines rolled into Austin, Texas, this past March for the annual South by Southwest music convention, the Canadian indie-rock quartet's spirits weren't flying high. "Playing those things is weird," says guitarist Steve Lambke. "I kept questioning, 'What are we doing here? We're not looking for management, we're not looking for a lawyer . . . '—all those things people try and get out of SXSW."
A few minutes prior to the band's show that Saturday night, as he surveyed the cramped confines of B.D. Riley's, an Irish pub on downtown Austin's main drag packed with industry folk tuned into the band's building buzz, Lambke's mood still hadn't lightened. "Walking around the bar, I was like, 'Oh, great, are we just playing for a bunch of pagers and cell phones?'"
Unbeknownst to the guitarist, many of the Seattle scene makers in town that week had arrived feeling similarly disgruntled; managing bands or publicizing records beats flipping burgers at Kidd Valley, but it can still grind a girl or guy down. Yet by the end of the Constantines' chaotic, compelling set, both the band and those of us from the Emerald City lucky enough to catch them— including staffers from the Showbox, Chop Suey, and Sub Pop who watched from outside because the bar was at capacity—were feeling much more excited about our jobs.
"Everything went wrong during their set, but they made it so, so right," observed Minus the Bear singer-guitarist Jake Snider a few days later, responding to an informal e-mail survey of conference highlights conducted by Chop Suey talent booker Kerri Harrop. If anything, the postage stamp-sized corner the Constantines were crammed into and the fact that singer-guitarist Bryan Webb trashed his instrument only a few minutes into the set only spurred the foursome to greater levels of mayhem, with Webb climbing over monitors and balancing on a windowsill to howl at his sidewalk congregation. Even former Murder City Devils frontman Spencer Moody, by no means a blushing flower when it comes to onstage antics, was transfixed in wide-eyed awe.
"When you think about it, most bands wouldn't have been able to overcome what they did that night and still leave people walking away just shaking their heads in amazement," adds David Dickerson of Seattle's Suicide Squeeze label, which released the Constantines' new The Modern Sinner Nervous Man EP last month. "And that was on borrowed equipment."
Formed in Guelph, Ontario, in 1999 (they frequently hosted house shows with like-minded local bands), three-fourths of the group—which also includes bassist Dallas Wehrle and drummer Doug MacGregor—have since relocated to Toronto. Although the group's eponymous 2001 debut (on Three Gut Records) garnered enough interest at home to score a Best Alternative Album nomination at Canada's much-maligned Juno Awards, poor-to-nonexistent stateside distribution (until now) has hindered them from generating the rabid U.S. following they deserve. But that will likely change, thanks to the new three-song set of non-LP cuts—including "Underneath the Stop Signs," a dub-influenced epic that should appeal to fans of Fugazi, Make-Up, and Clinic—and their first proper U.S. tour.
The lounge at Graceland, where the band plays this Monday evening, won't afford them much more space than they enjoyed at B.D. Riley's, but one suspects the Constantines will prove just as effective at shaking up jaded Seattleites on our home turf as they were in Austin. With a reputation for finishing up sets bruised and bloody-fingered, the Constantines aren't a band that backs down from a challenge. "I played with a broken wrist for six weeks last summer," shrugs Lambke. "There were a few songs we couldn't do, but we managed to get by. It was frustrating, but I had to do it. The show must go on."