HE LOOKS LIKE ELVIS. Big, swooping pompadour. Black leather suit. Gaudy, grinning sneer. And he dances on the TV screen above me while I hold a cue stick and stand at the glowing golf green of felt, straining to hear the song over the woody clack of pool balls. Sam Endicott, singer from New York's the Bravery, suspended in a TV left-of-bar, is working through his latest single, "An Honest Mistake." It's on some VH1 live music show. Live music as played to a TV audience—all sterile, glossy, "hip" décor, and an aging in-studio crowd dancing like they're hearing En Vogue for the first time.
It's the band's third song in, and it's great. But it's terrible! Terribly great. Greatly terr... I lay my pool stick on the table, walk over to the bar, and turn the TV up. The bar's full, but nobody seems to mind; beers are flowing like water, and water isn't being drank in a place like this. ("Hell no, H2O!" shouted a waitress in the dead-dumb Coyote Ugly, a bar not unlike this one—a movie for an audience not unlike the one in the TV studio.)
This is dance punk as revamped by bands like Moving Units, only removed of the punk. Dance pop... unpunked. Endicott juts his hip to one side, throws his head back, poses like Morrissey, then sings like Morrissey! And as new wave keyboards jerk around, and drums sound like they come from machines, he rips off Morrissey, the croon, the swagger—it's all there. Shameless! But so good.
The songs the band's playing are off their self-titled Def Jam Island CD that came out in March. It's this first album, because they've only been a band for 14 some odd dog years. And it's their album that NME, Rolling Stone, and the Voice rrrubbed their collective genitals to 'til... 'til... 'til... POP! Big success! Big tours. Big sales. Big TV show appearances. Endicott stalks the stage under pulsing red lights. Suddenly it's the catchiest thing ever, the type of perfect single that makes you feel sexy and tough humming the thing while you're making your way up Burnside and you feel eyes upon you as you're shaking off the cold.
But terrible! A fake! A phony! Just a big, gooey loogie in the face of things like integrity and originality. But that guitar riff... the drums... the three keyboards bobbing and weaving like Russian MiGs! Eli comes over and stands next to me holding a beer. "Dude, it's Robert Smith," he says smiling. "He's butchering a bad Robert Smith impersonation."
And he is. "An Honest Mistake" hits its middle point with Endicott leaning into the camera, and yowling out a Cure line, not actual Cure lyrics, not from an actual Cure song, but the best 17-second-long piece of Cure that Robert and his boys never wrote. Shameless! But so good. "Let's play some pool," says Eli, and we turn away from the Bravery, who aren't done playing their biggest hit ever.