Nic Offer can't tell me what mythical archetype he and his bandmates in !!! (pronounced chk-chk-chk, or any three repetitions of a sound) might represent. His laughter an audible shrug, he says, "We knew we'd get some weird [questions] as a reflection of the album title, but we haven't gotten that one before. I guess Jerry [Fuch] is Thor—he's hammering on the drums....Honestly, I don't know enough to drop any mythical creatures' names."
!!! With Mr. Tube and the Flying Objects and Telepathe. Neumo's, 925 E. Pike St., 709-9467, www.neumos.com. $13. 8 p.m. Thurs., May 3.
Listen to a sample of !!!'s "Heart of Hearts."
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Considering his band's round-the-clock party ethos, Dionysus comes to my mind. But Offer is interested in letting people connect their own myths to the songs on their Warp debut, Myth Takes. There's plenty of imagery to play with, and nothing as overtly political as "Pardon My Freedom" (the song from 2004's Louden Up Now, in which Offer famously asked the president to suck his dick). Nevertheless, the songs will rile up your body and brain.
"The thing about myths is that the ones I grew up with are the rock and roll songs," he says. "[For instance], the Romeo and Juliet story I probably always chased has been the John and Yoko story. You start listening to story tapes as a kid, and when you jump to rock and roll, you're still listening to it as a story. I thought every album was a concept album....That's what we definitely tried to do with [Myth Takes]. We hoped to leave lots of bits and details open-ended so you could make up your own stories."
Talking from Sweden, the Brooklyn-based !!! are in the middle of their most extensive tour, playing almost every night and still finding the energy to hit the clubs after the show. "The majority of the time, the afterparty of the club we play is some dance-rock bullshit, but we try to get away from that," says Offer. "We were just in Hamburg and went out to an amazing club. It was a tiny hole in the wall, like a squat, but they had a system that pumped and everyone was so packed in there."
So, that's where Dionysus' antics come in. Also called the "Liberator," the Greek god of wine was known for facilitating a freeing from one's normal self, through mad behavior and ecstasy (in the classical sense of the word). In his time, a days-long party held in his honor featured mass drunkenness and the performance of tragedies and comedies. That doesn't seem too far from the cultural experience of today's rock show: A good one should contain an element of theater and a glimpse of something outrageous, for a discerning—depending on how much they imbibe—audience.
As shown in the video for first single "Heart of Hearts," which is a compilation of live footage, the stage antics of Offer and his crew (eight members total, including Tyler Pope, from their former side project Out Hud) are what keep the audiences attuned. In it, Offer shakes his ass and humpty-humps across gigantic stages, writhing to the song's seriously deep groove. Singer Shannon Funchess, a Washington state girl now living in N.Y.C., contributes the soulful chorus: "It's got to be true love, baby, it's such a precious thing/'Cause we're all just fumbling, baby, fumbling in the dark/For our heart of hearts." (Though she doesn't appear in the video, she will be on the Seattle stage and several other U.S. ones.) Drenched in perspiration and dressed in American Apparel–style short-shorts, the band mug like they're making a workout tape: Sweatin' to the Indies?
They're on a roll with Myth Takes, the most enjoyable full-length of their career. From a debut on San Diego's Gold Standard Laboratories to Louden Up Now on Touch and Go, their strength has been in intermittent, electrifying singles like "Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard," a 2003 kiss-off to the mayor who limited the places where New Yorkers can dance, and "Take Ecstasy With Me," a raved-up remake of the Magnetic Fields song. Buoyed by these underground hits and their reliably great live shows, it didn't much matter to fans that the albums in between were uneven, sometimes tapering off into uninteresting tangents. Offer doesn't have the world's greatest singing voice, either, but it takes on an appealing mix of whispery tones and staccato spoken word for much of Myth Takes. This works perfectly for the sexy "Must Be the Moon" and funk-filled "All My Heroes Are Weirdos," respectively. In fact, from the western-style guitar chords that open the disc to "A New Name," whose intricate instrumentation mimics Out Hud's electronic-based slant, the aesthetic mix of Myth Takes is what makes it such a compelling journey. The honchos at the world's most-respected electronic record label saw that potential all along.
"To me, they were like a modern-day Funkadelic," says Simon Halliday, general manager of Warp's U.S. offices, on the first time he saw !!! perform. The label distributed Louden Up Now in Europe, and when the band's deal with Touch and Go ended, Warp stepped in to tap them for at least three albums. "[They were] one of the only bands who mixed that DJ feel with a live act. You could see it all happening. I couldn't believe that seven musicians could feel so unified, polished, and together."
Neumo's booker, Steven Severin, agrees. "It's more than just a show when they play, it's an event," he says, noting a CMJ appearance where they wore disco balls, which were then hit by pin spots.
Audiences are feeling the theatrics, but what I want to know is, is Offer really feeling that E? Except for an unfortunate puking incident on a Barcelona stage (that he claims is legendary there), yep. Not a regular user, he says: "You never really can tell until after it's kicked in whether you're going to be laid out on the floor or what. But so far, so good."