The Librarians rock the
By Phil Herrick
THE STAGE AT 924 Gilman is cramped, and judging from the way
Ryan Gan is dancing, I'm pretty sure he's going to knock something over.
I'm right it's a microphone.
But Gan, the anti-frontperson frontperson of the Librarians, isn't
even fazed. Though on the record, Gan's job is limited to backup vocals
and tambourine for vocalist-guitarist Damon Larson, he explodes into
his full potential onstage with spastic tambourine beating and poster-worthy
one-hand-on-the-hip-the-other-thrust-skyward poses. His performance
is truly horrifying in its cheesiness, and yet it's unnervingly mesmerizing.
It's a kind of innocence-lost scenario: everyone reaches the same guilty
conclusion, "Christ, why don't more bands do this?"
Listening to the Librarians' recent debut, The Pathetic Aesthetic
(Pandacide Records), I'd say the last thing that comes to mind is a
late-20s Asian American dude in biker gloves doing what appears to be
an intensely personal tribute to glam rock. No, you'd think the recording
was the product of a bunch of high school boys who see their punk-laced
power pop as a way to get laid. Or, more to the Librarians' credit,
you might think of the Replacements or a younger Elvis Costello. It's
true, The Pathetic Aesthetic supplies enough catchy hooks and
vocal harmonies to haunt you day and night, but at no point does it
prepare you for their live show.
Reading, writing, rocking
Gan's stage persona has always been at the core of the Librarians'
mission. Larson and Gan formed the band back in 1999 when they were
both at UC Berkeley. "It was hard to start a band in college, with
all the school, drinking, irresponsibility," Larson says later
in an interview at a Berkeley cafe. Sitting amid a slew of Cal students,
he lays off the caffeine and rolls his own cigarettes instead
though the women around him hassle him for smoking outside.
In the beginning they played co-op parties, winning fans with Gan's
unhinged performances and their poppy odes to raver girls. By
2001 they had added Lucas White on bass and Ben Adrian on drums, and
the Librarians were beginning to look like a "real band."
In February the group placed first at Cal's Battle of the Bands, giving
them the shove they needed to get into the studio.
Soon after, Petaluma's Pandacide Records hooked the guys up with Fantasy
Studios in Berkeley. But sadly, the recording sessions didn't bear fruit.
"It sounded like shit, and we scrapped it all," Larson says.
So the band opted to record at Feedback Loop Industries, a.k.a. Adrian's
Snotty punk pop
The standout feature of the 12-track debut is Larson's vocals. They
shine. Or maybe better: they crater the side of a mountain. Larson croons
his verses in a snotty Britpop kind of way that is at once playful,
funny, and unabashedly naive. Choruses like "She'll be my lover
if I rock like Sammy Hagar tonight" make you laugh even as they
make you shake your head with embarrassment. "I have an adolescent
mind," Larson confesses.
But it's more than that. Larson's oscillating arrogance and self-consciousness
swing a little too close for comfort for anyone over the age of 13.
These guys have matured since high school, and they cut the self-aggrandizement
with a measure of irony. Would some punk rocker who can only play power
cords sing, "Why do you dress like a rockstar when you can't even
play the guitar?" That'd be like the emperor admitting he has no
Larson says the songs dis other dopes' silly shenanigans but
he's far from exempt. "I should know. I participated in the same
thing," he quips. Still, his odes to one-night stands and slutty
girls can't be written off as simply pent-up bitterness. Larson's lyrics
parody adolescent love songs, yet they are love songs.
To their credit, and like many other indie bands before them, everything
about the Librarians is double-coded. The nuanced commentary Larson
accomplishes lyrically is carried on in a not so nuanced manner onstage.
And their live shows are in response to the visually stagnant
indie rock concerts that bore them. "There's a certain self-righteousness
in punk rock and indie that I don't like," Larson complains. "I'd
go see these indie rock bands and be like, 'Why are you playing live
in the first place?' "
Enter Gan, the frontperson-go-go boy who doesn't really do much singing.
As he sees it, that's not a problem. "The frontman should be the
one who says, 'You should be like me,' " Gan explains. Translation:
shake your ass like you're having a seizure. "The next evolution
is less singing and more posturing," he adds.
Gan's dancing stands out among musicians who try to maintain some veneer
of cool. Even in the Bay Area, he explains, the trend is to neglect
stage shenanigans in order to remain inaccessible. Both Gan and Larson
agree this preoccupation with aloofness is a shame everyone has
less fun. "I'm always excited to see a live show," Larson
says, "but usually it's mopey."
But the Librarians are optimistic. The scene is starting to change.
Indie rockers are getting into hip-hop, and that's adding a new groove
to the music. "Now it's bam in your face with
this weird-ass shit," Larson says, explaining the appeal of Oakland's
Gravy Train!!!! "That's what it was supposed to be like in the
And ultimately, it's the weird-ass shit that the Librarians aspire
to: taking their crazed antics and fusing them with their catchy pop.
Gan calls it "something new with respect for the old," and
references Sonic Youth as a model. A pretty tall order, don't you think?
Yeah, but the Librarians also call themselves the future of rock, as
Gan says, "like it or not."
Librarians play Aug. 23, 10 p.m., Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th
St., S.F. $8. (415) 621-4455.