These days, the opportunity to see the Fair brothers on stage together is one of the most highly anticipated events of the year, this one or any other. But 30 or so years after David and Jad started recording as Half Japanese, there's guarantee of greatness. At the Rock and Roll Hotel, the Fairs and friends did not disappoint, and when David took the stage and smiled at the crowd, he lit up the room, and he would keep it bright.
As weird, disjointed and noisy as the music was, the set was as joyous a rock and roll show as any could be, and the crowd represented the generations the band has reached. For some, it was nostalgia, but for others, it was a chance they thought they'd never have. In a white T-shirt with the simple, brilliant formula "E = MC5" in black, David was adorable -- big, smiley, goofy -- as he belted out a tune from the band's noise rock beginnings, "My Concentration, Oh No." He played a little guitar and shared vocals with Jad, but his presence otherwise was the highlight of the show. He channeled belly dancers and go-go girls as he danced, even doing the twist and mini rock jumps, including one that knocked his glasses off. And somehow he made Jad look like the sane one.
And that's Half Japanese. Musicianship be damned, the Fairs are about rock and roll enthusiasm and music that can be made by anyone. Half Japanese was and is the ultimate DIY experience. Once the crowd recognized the third song, "Firecracker," the room lit up alongside David, as Jad, along with most of the audience, sang in his classic love-it-or-hate-it cartoonish voice. This song comes from the catchier, more accessible Half Japanese territory, but this band, consisting of the first musicians that ever supported the Fairs -- on guitar, drums and saxophone -- played it in the style of early Japanese: noisy. Overall, the set was a sort of bicycle wreck of pop, punk, jazz and country, and even the songs that sounded professional on record were a beautiful mess here. Like "Secret," one of their sweeter songs -- a schoolboy crush -- it was clunky and jarring. That smitten boy theme always dominated the Fairs' songs, when they weren't singing about horror movies and tabloid headlines, and was well-represented by "No Direct Line from My Brain to My Heart," simply but poignantly conveying foolish love.
About a third of the way into the set, David cast away his guitar and intro'd the next song by speaking its chorus, "Too much adrenaline made me break my strings./Too much adrenaline made me do too many things." A few songs later, "1,000,000 Kisses" was the first song of the night to be faithful to its more professional sounding recording. Others, like "Said and Done," demonstrated the band's ability to cast aside silly novelty and rock out as well as anyone. And "Silver and Katherine" also was true to its recording, sounding as pretty and romantic as ever. "Rosemary's Baby" followed and was one of the few songs on which David's voice sounded like its old self, like the David Fair of 30 years ago belting out noise rock like "No More Beatlemania." On "I Know It Feels ... Bad," another early Half Japanese song, Jad's outside vocals were at their furthest, as he repeated "I think about you" ad nauseam in a schizophrenic stutter before deadpanning, "And the reason is I cannot control myself." Next up, David picked up his guitar again for "Electric Respect," and indeed two broken strings were hanging from its neck, but if anyone can play through broken strings, it's this man. (Read his essay, "How to Play Guitar.")
"T. for Texas," the Jimmie Rodgers tune turned Half Japanese staple, was presented as the wild, oddball cousin to the original, and the pre-encore came to a close with another cover, Roky Erickson's "You're Gonna Miss Me." As soon as Jad told Mary that Tom was hit by a train, David lit up with twisted glee, quintessential Fair. And as a counterpoint to that, when the band took the stage again for the encore, they played "Fire to Burn," a song about throwing your evil records on the fire. "Rip My Shirt to Shreds" bookended the set in the Fair brothers' late-'70s/early-'80s noise rock.
Playing ahead of Half Japanese, Boister was a fairly unknown entity featuring members mostly older than those in the headliner. But the music quickly captured the crowd. The ensemble featured a steady rhythm of bass and drums, a couple of horns, a guitar and the sexy female vocalist playing an accordion. As eclectic and quirky as the music was, ranging from gypsy to jazz to psychedelic rock, it had a cohesive sound. The guitarist picked and strummed lightly and echoed in a soulful, bluesy style, and the horns alternated between New Orleans jazz and noisy fusion. The second song, a French-language version of Zep's "Dancing Days," took hold of the hipsters in the crowd, and they danced throughout the set. Jad was called up for one song to provide animal calls and nonsense words.
Opener Turbo Fruits was decades younger than the other acts. Not only is the trio not graying, it still sports those underage Xs on its hands. But their youth is not heard in their music. In fact, the quality of the music for such younguns predicts a bright future. The trio features Be Your Own Pet drummer John Eatherly and guitarist Jonas Stein, who looked like a punk rock Huck Finn in T-shirt and cutoff jeans shorts. But instead of BYOP's garagey noise pop, the Fruits play bloozey punk as competent as any around.