I hate Halloween. I hate Halloween, and I’ll tell you why. Gone are the days we got to dress up as (happy) clowns and ninja turtles, (non-slutty) princesses and Power Rangers and get candy in exchange. Today Halloween is—not even a day—but a weekend of guys dressing as girls and girls dressing as, well, naked girls. I know, I know, it sounds like a wonderful occasion. But it’s not for me. So I was more than happy to spend at least one day of Halloween weekend away from the awful crowds, at Emo’s, to see Class Actress and Small Black perform. Little did I know Halloween would find a way to haunt me all the way into Emo’s, in that small and dark inside stage, where I would have no choice but to embrace the madness of it all.
The credits of “Catch Me If You Can” were already rolling on the bar’s TV when Class Actress took the stage. The crowd began forming around singer Elizabeth Harper, who, with her perfectly messy hair and devilishly flirty looks, managed to create a mood, this mood of palpable sensuality. The New York City band has songs that somehow take the best of the ‘80s—a little Depeche Mode, with the charm of a brunette Debbie Harry—and make them modern, fun and lulling.
It wasn’t a couple of songs into the set that I noticed some people turning away from the stage to look at the bar. Up until then, I’d thought the mood of the place had been perfect. Dark and intimate, dimmed red lights, smoky, with Harper and her dark lips onstage. But when I turned to the bar and saw Asian porn playing on the TV, I knew—the mood had now been sufficiently enhanced, truly completed. I don’t know how the band never got distracted. Because for what was left of their set there was so much to see, everything added to the soundtrack of the night, to Harper’s moves and musky voice. There was Marylin Monroe, beer in hand and chest hair around "her" cleavage. And there was Lindsay Lohan, with horribly synthetic-looking hair and a bright orange jumpsuit. Oh, and LiLo’s giant bag of coke, with a life of its own, following its owner around the bar.
Add all that plus necrophilic Asians on TV, and it was distracting enough to leave Small Black unnoticed. The four members were now giving more a feel of college Halloween party than neo-Victorian burlesque show. Too bad. But Small Black put on a great set, getting the crowd a little bit rowdier, dancing a little less sexy but a little livelier.
The power in both bands, especially Small Black, seemed to be nostalgia. Small Black also manages to bring a bit of the past with a twist not only in their songs, but into their energy-packed performances. Their show was bright in spark and personality, and their music hazy yet poppy enough to become a kind of colorful dream we want to live in longer.
By now, Asians had become Nazis and the porno’s subtitles were still distracting (yes, the subtitles were what was distracting), so it was true that Small Black did not really take center stage. It was somehow more of a collaboration. The funny thing was that Class Actress’ music, which kind of sounds like sex, fit the night’s mood completely. But Small Black’s work, which sounds like love, kind of stood above the crowds and the costumes and the masturbation scenes. There were a lot of audience members who had clearly come to Emo’s on a whim, not as fans of the band, and had not been pleasantly surprised. Small Black doesn’t put out music for everyone. Their show, although entertaining, had a kind of quality that didn’t match the average listener.
Personally for me, Small Black’s set wasn’t as entrancing as I had hoped. It didn’t come off as appealing as Class Actress’ much shorter set. I don’t know, maybe it was the unusual amount of hanging breasts around—and no, I’m not just talking about on TV—but the success of the show seemed to come more from the night as a whole: Halloween, the bar, the characters and yes, the porn. It wasn’t so much about Class Actress and Small Black, but about what they contributed. They put on a good show, I’ll give you that, and as one non-fan very eloquently put, “Hey, I’d give this show a great review. Not because of the band but because I had a great fucking time!” Well then, there ya go. I guess this Halloween was not so bad.