The Comas and Vietnam at the Empty Bottle

I have certain gaping holes in my knowledge of current pop culture, especially anything related to celebrity gossip. So unbeknownst to me, this album I’ve been listening to, Conductor by the Comas (Yep Roc), is apparently focused on lead singer Andy Herod’s romantic woes concerning a certain former girlfriend who is an actress on some television show I’ve never seen before.

(Maybe all of this would have been more obvious if I’d actually bought the CD, which comes with a DVD depicting the breakup story, rather than downloading it from emusic. Clue #1: The song called “Tonight on the WB.”)

Yeah, I have heard of Dawson’s Creek — I’m not that out of it — but if you’d asked me who Michelle Williams is, I wouldn’t have had any idea. (Or I might have remembered her as the cute chick from The Station Agent.)

Now that I know what Conductor is all about, I’m inclined to think: “Oh, great, some celebrity whining about breaking up with a celebrity girlfriend.” But that wouldn’t be fair, and this is a more-than-decent collection of rock songs. In any case, breakups are a great topic, no matter how famous your former partner is. And Herod doesn’t qualify as a celebrtity, not yet at least… Somehow, I had the idea that the Comas show at the Empty Bottle might sell out, given the press that the band’s been getting. As it turned out, it was a decent-size crowd, but there was enough space for me to roam around in front of the stage taking photos.

It’s hard to get a handle on exactly what style of music the Comas are playing. The album’s an eclectic mix of various rock genres and subgenres, though the core is melodic indie rock, not supercatchy enough to qualify as power pop, not quite extreme enough to qualify as postpunk. Ah, who cares about these labels, anyway? It’s good stuff, and the band pulled it off in concert, too.

Though the Comas recorded a couple of albums before this one, you wouldn’t have known it from their Empty Bottle show, which was less than an hour long, drawing almost exclusively (or was it exclusively?) from Conductor. And they aren’t the kind of band that transforms good studio songs into reveletory rave-ups in concert. But I wouldn’t call the show disappointing. Several of the songs moved toward more intense catharsis when Herod upped the intensity of his vocals. And when the Comas play in concert, the interplay between Herod and guitarist/backup vocalist Nichole Gehweiler becomes more apparent — their loose harmonies keep things interesting.

The opening act, Vietnam, was also interesting — and just as hard to pin down. Sounding at times like slightly sludgy ’70s blues rock, Vietnam’s percussion occasionally surged into Arcade Fire territory.

See my photos of the Comas and Vietnam performing February 18, 2005, at the Empty Bottle in Chicago.