The latest release in Fat Wreck Chords’ Live in a Dive series, the Swingin’ Utters left me with two questions. One: How do they get the sound to be so much better than any dive-bar punk-rock show I’ve ever been to? Two: Why does every band that picks up an accordion end up sounding like the Pogues?
Seriously. I reviewed the Subhumans’ Live in a Dive record, and aside from the between-song commentary and applause, both records could’ve come from a studio. Not that that’s a bad thing at all–it is nice to be able to hear what they’re going on about, and to be able to distinguish one instrument from the next. The accordion bit’s all right too. I’m a big fan of the Pogues, and there are far worse things to imitate.
I’m at a loss for how to review live releases. I don’t need to talk about the songs. They’ve been heard and reviewed many times before, even the obligatory Cocksparrer cover. So it ends up like reviewing a live show that I was not at. So I can say that it’s good, but that it lacks that frenetic feeling that comes from being in the crowd at a show. It feels at times more like an album recorded in front of a “live studio audience!” providing applause and whooping at appropriate moments and being on the receiving end of singer Johnny Bonnel’s comments, and then during the songs, muted like the crowd at Howard Dean’s Ohio rally.
The Swingin’ Utters is a good band, their songwriting is solid, their playing tight, but the raw feeling you get from a good live record is missing here. Instead of “Live in a Dive,” I feel more like it’s “Live With An Exceptional Sound Crew Reproducing Studio-Quality Sound,” in which case it’s just a glorified singles collection with some cussing between songs.