Matching black satin shirts, black ties to match. Five-points and beehives and quiffs piled high with pomade. It’s not that Make Up look cooler than everybody else put together, not that they act like that. Make Up just are cooler than everybody else put together.
Rock pedigrees non pareils. At most, two degrees of separation between members Ian Svenonius, Steve Gamboa, Michelle Mae, James Canty and every cool band ever to come from the D.C. area. The smoldering legacy of Nation of Ulysses. About a billion records under their belts after five years of straight-dope talkin’ and testifyin’, preaching their permutation of the Word at home and abroad, on French television even, to uncounted legions of rabid adherents to Make Up’s hip-shakin’ “gospel yeh-yeh.”
You think you’ve heard R&B before. Maybe. But you’ve never heard it stripped down to such a splendid and apocalyptic result. John Spencer can bite it. And if you’ve never heard Make Up, you’ve never heard the gospel yeh-yeh: “a proclaimed ‘liberation theology’ with a decidedly unchristian emphasis on earthly transformation … this faith is an apocalyptic affair, with ministers urging their flock to ‘get theirs’ and ‘off the pigs—in all their forms’.”
You may have seen a frontman or two before. But if you’ve never seen Ian Svenonius, you’ve never seen a frontman. Svenonius unleashed, stalking the perimeter of a few dozen gaping kids assembled upstairs at Union Hall. Svenonius fit to strangle himself with the cord of his own microphone, amorous deadpan splitting into a mind-scraping falsetto howl while the band, in matching yellow pantsuits, pulse studiously behind him. Canty alternating between spare shagging riffles and the ecumenical whiff of churchy organ, sending Svenonius into further paroxysms of gospel bliss. You know that part in “Get on the Good Foot” where James Brown unleashes that shriek you think is going to give the dog a seizure? You haven’t even heard that.
The Message is out there: on shiny aluminum discs and slabs of oily black vinyl. Pick up a Make Up recording, any one of them, and dig the tight, tuff sound of the Cool. The Sound of the Look. Dig a song like “I Want Some,” with Svenonius crooning “I want some … gimme some … I want a piece … I want a piece, yeah yeah” over an imperturbable woody bass line and Mae giving up the glacially cool “oohs,” and “aahs.” Dig a song like “Every Baby Cries the Same.” Dig those dry spare taps, the out-of-nowhere squall of feedback and the tremolo solo. Just dig it. Dig all of it.
Because brothers and sisters, these are strange times we’re living in. Vinyl siding salesmen coming at you with promises of deliverance and salvation, in your neighborhood today with pamphlets and codices and special offers to get you in good with the Lord, all proclaiming to be the only way. Anymore you need good inferno to show you mean business, so get the Plan up front before you sign your name on anything. And let your body be a tabernacle for Make Up’s gospel yeh-yeh.
Make-Up play 140 West Pine on Wednesday, April 5 at 8 PM. DJ Beyonda opens. Tickets are $6.