November 14, 2006

OK Go falters under pressure of newfound popularity at Logan Square

OK Go are victim of an unfortunate fate these days. They are getting more buzz, playing better venues, and making music videos with dancing that makes everyone on your floor jealous. At the same time, though, their crowds are decreasing in age and increasing in bad taste. Their concert last Friday night at Logan Square Auditorium was a case in point. Despite the connotations that a high school assembly might carry with it, the Auditorium is far classier than the Metro, where I saw OK Go play last year. The more expansive stage and the curtained, arched windows are far superior to the Metro’s abundant MySpace banners and omnipresent security guards. The Auditorium’s floors vibrated with every jump of the crowd, only adding to the thrill of it.

Sadly, though, the success of the band’s video “A Million Ways” this past summer seems to have gained them a following of teenage girls, their cute little ponytails bobbing as they flip their heads to an approximation of drummer Dan Konopka’s beats, ready for something a little more exciting than school assemblies. This made Friday’s audience lucky to have Quit Your Day Job as an opener.

Quit Your Day Job sounds like the Dead Kennedys updated to include a keyboardist, and these guys were loud and excited and knew how to set an example for the crowd to follow. They had fast, repetitive lyrics, but they were too good at what they did for anyone to care that the words weren’t creative. They spit in impressively large parabolas across the stage, slapping their cheeks to emphasize shouted comments. All around, they performed surprisingly good music for a band whose lead singer was sporting a track jacket. This stood in contrast to the French Kicks, the second opener, whose songs all bled together and led one to drift off. They were far from an ideal transition leading up to OK Go, and should have performed before Quit Your Day Job if they had to be allowed to play at all.

Then OK Go came on, and, to their credit, this native Chicago band was able to overcome the bobbing ponytailed set. Lead singer Damian Kulash tossed cheap tambourines adorned with the band’s logo into the audience when the band first came onstage, issuing the instruction that audience members weren’t to hoard these as souvenirs, but to shake them vigorously throughout. (Concerts, as OK Go knows, are intended for audience participation, not audience souvenir collections. This is a lesson that the camera-phone crowd—they overlap with the high school crowd—would do well to learn before their next Ticketmaster purchase.)

When it came time for them to perform last summer’s “A Million Ways,” the band jumped off the stage and onto a makeshift platform in the middle of the audience, where they handed an enormous flashlight to a nearby audience member for spotlighting purposes and played on what was quite literally a pedestal.

Sometimes, though, the band added gimmicks to songs that didn’t deserve them at all.

Do you know the song “There’s a Fire”? No, probably because it sucked too much for anyone to make you listen to it. But this didn’t stop an oblivious Kulash from requesting that the camera-phone kids wave their cell phones through the air, calling his band too modern for lighters in response to the city’s recent smoking ban. All this did, though, was emphasize the song’s lameness, despite the attempts of a few diligent smokers to brandish their lighters anyway. Not that the song or its current rendition merited this show of civil disobedience.

And the band continued to give in to the gimmickry. Confetti flew down from the ceiling in the beginning of their set to announce nothing in particular, and giant, inflated pink cylinders (so, so phallic) blew about the stage during the encore. This showiness served only to make one realize that the band does not in fact have enough good songs in their repertoire to merit these cheesy visual effects. They don’t even know how to choose songs to cover that suit their talents; we got a couple of the most unmemorable covers I’ve ever heard of songs originally done in much more interesting renditions by The Band and The Electric Light Orchestra.

My favorite part of OK Go’s concert at the Metro last November was their encore. After explaining that they don’t believe in the ethos of encores, the band compromised by playing a recording of “A Million Ways,” their new single at the time, and performing the robotic and nerdy dance later made famous in their music video. But this year, the encore has changed. The dance and the recording were still there, but were preceded by other songs, defeating the purpose of the dance’s inclusion for last year’s Metro audience. OK Go might be losing their original spark.