Witnessing Merchandise, a foursome from Tampa Bay, Florida, play their songs live after having been wound up in their music for a number of months now was a weird experience. It is well known to fans and followers of the band that the group emerged from the burgeoning Tampa hardcore and punk scene. However, the Merchandise of a punk youth has evolved into something more sprawling and deeper than perhaps punk would otherwise seem. A young, up and coming band must do the rounds of small, dingy venues but the downstairs live music area of Broadcast, a confined, low-roofed space, is too constricting for songs of this calibre and epic sensibility. The winding distorted guitars of “Become What You Are” or the oppressive atmospherics of the drumming “In Nightmare Room” filled and consumed the area provided for them like a glittery mist of powerful guitar noise.
The reason it was a weird experience for me is that, in my mind, these songs, despite their obvious density, have a weightlessness and hint at ascendency which led me to assume that they would be performed in a somewhat shoegazey style. I was completely wrong. Merchandise refuse to betray their punk roots – every song was thrashed and shredded and battered out, regardless of its sound. Lead singer Carson Cox leapt down from the plinth he performed on into the crowd on more than one occasion, traversing the length and breadth of the room but remaining soulfully in key. Drummer Elser Nino didn’t seem to be even in the same band – his long greasy hair and forceful playing almost seemed to be from a heavy metal group. The songs remained heartfelt and were played to near perfection though, so there can be no criticism of this, even if it was disconcerting at first. This made the show a visual and oral treat where in fact in some other room at some other show in some other city a band would play similar styled songs with no apparent passion or intensity. Although, having said that, it is difficult to think of another band that creates this kind of music. There is certainly an 80s tinge, some kind of Americana influence. There is also an obvious link with Morrissey in Cox’s voice, leading me to blearily describe them as “The American Smiths but with a ton of fuzz and distortion”. They are quite a lot more than this. But the comparison remains.
The crowd was in jubilant mood (there was even an extremely high turnout for the opening support act, a local band called Baby Strange). Two extremely enthusiastic members at the front at times rushed the stage, pulled Cox into the crowd, commandeered the microphone and continuously leapt up and down, even during slow numbers like “I’ll Be Gone”. And throughout all of this, the band remained composed and even thrived on this rowdy behaviour. They even seemed surprised that they could bring their brand of music to what must be to them a small city like Glasgow and be so well received. Indeed, I had a brief chat with Cox in the bar after the gig and he expressed his delight that the Glasgow crowd was so friendly and welcoming (nothing can make me feel more pride in my city than something like that). It was clear, both from the performance and my discussion with Cox and guitarist David Vassalotti, that they were not perturbed by a hectic touring schedule (which saw them drive immediately from Birmingham to Glasgow and then straight on to Manchester) trying to promote their music to small crowds – Broadcast is an intimate venue but it was not even close to being full. And yet, Merchandise played as if to thousands of people, which only endeared me to them more.
Merchandise are quite an interesting band even out with their music. They have independently released their records so far (Children of Desire, Totale Nite) and refuse to be drawn in to the humdrum and decay of the music industry by signing to a major label. Their songs are filled with philosophical and literary allusions and Cox has been recently painted in the music press as some kind of pseudo-intellectual who raves about artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Henrik Ibsen. In fact, in my chat with them, I found a very down to earth and friendly Carson Cox who just wanted to have a drink, talk to the audience and find out a little more about where he had come to play and if people enjoyed the show, much like many young performers must feel. He certainly didn’t strike me as a pretentious person only interested in talking about high end artistic endeavours. No, they were just a good band which writes interesting and affecting records, whose members obviously have artistic talent, knowledge and interest. Just opening up their vinyl and flicking through the booklet within entitled “Desire in the Mouth of Dogs” indicates to you that you are listening to cultured people. But they, as with all young bands, are mainly concerned with bringing their music to people who love them all over the world and spreading their art. At this gig, my affection for them thus far was more than confirmed.
Photo: Drew Reynolds