Grand Rapids: Teens in Blue Jeans

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Published February 8, 2010

PHOTO BY COLIN DODGSON

Judging by their penchant for blue jeans and bluegrass influence, New York band Grand Rapids have seen The Last Picture Show once too many, or spent too much time yearning for freedom in the cramped Lower East Side basement that is their practice space. The band’s grand live  set conjures vast open roads, wrap-around porches, and a road trip down to “Luchenbach, Texas with Waylon and Willie and the boys.”

There’s something timely about a band whose members are so young, and so reminiscent of the jangly rock of the 90’s. In fact, it was a condition for their friendship. Drummer Clara Balzary says she knew her future bandmate, 19-year-old Alex Niemetz, was destined for BFF-dom when “We realized we both loved Smog, Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement.” They’re also both redheads, which makes for an especially fiery pairing.

Some of their songs are reminiscent of The Violent Femmes, others seem more like updates on country standards. Balzary jokes about the band’s summer plans, “We want to do a cross country tour, and wear matching western outfits like The Tennessee Three.” The songs are vocally dominated, with anthem-like choruses followed by classic, solo-driven bridges. There’s also a certain evident obsession with the late, great Silver Jews. Guitarist and lead singer 19-year-old Dan Lardner has a grave and gravelly voice reminiscent of David Berman, and his lyrics could hold up in fisticuffs to Bill Callahan’s and demonstate a sardonic wit far beyond his years. Niemetz, who won the “Shred for your Life” guitar contest at the ripe age of 16, switches between bass and guitar with 20-year-old Peter Baumann. On “Country Song,” Baumann finishes with a a few twangy, Johnny Cash-like licks on his Gretsch. All that, and they can only make it out to the country after school’s out.

GRAND RAPIDS PLAY TONIGHT AT 11 PM AT LIT LOUNGE, LOCATED AT 93 SECOND AVENUE, NEW YORK. CASSIE COANE AND HARLEY VIERA NEWTON WILL DJ AFTERWARD,