At Philadelphia bookstore Juanita and Juan's, in a backroom about the size of a bad studio apartment, are Crocodiles. That is to say, a band consisting of two dudes, Charles Rowell and Brandon Welchez, and in attendance are about a dozen other people all crowded around, avoiding eye contact. They're both wearing sunglasses in a space lit only by their BYO stage lights, and Welchez is madly jumping into people, daring them to have a good time. But no one is cracking. The dance-off is fruitless, bringing to mind nuns in a whorehouse...
The turnout confuses me, but then Crocodiles are still super fresh to most people's ears. They really started gaining visibility after being mentioned on No Age's 2008 year-end best-of list on Stereogum. Though they don't have much of a touring repetoire right now, whatever they're putting out there is working—their 7" on Art Fag sold out, and they toured with The Faint and Ladytron. They even got mentioned in the NY Times as an example of how the internet is putting bands on a faster projectile to fame. Welchez commented, "The Times article was a legitimizer. You know, everyone gets down on their life sometimes, you think 'my life's so fucking boring.' The past few month so much crazy shit has happened and the NY Times is one of those things."
And seriously, in the short time I hang out with them, or rather hang around them, some crazy shit comes up. They were apparently arrested two days previous while driving back from DC. And not long before, though unconnected, Welchez was somehow involved in a streetside bar mitzvah in New York. His own Bar Mitzvah. Raised without much inclusion of the ceremonies of his Jewish heritage, some Hasidic Jews somehow sensed the need to make Welchez a man and stopped him cold in the street with a to-the-point "YOU'RE JEWISH." They threw a yarmulke on him, got him set up in tellefin, the rites were performed and that was that. I asked him if it was weird. Nonplussed, he said "It was very interesting from a cultural perspective."
Rowell sits down intermittently, after introducing himself by proxy, asking Welchez "Is this she?," which makes me feel rather regal. But before much can be said beyond confessing, on crocodiles the reptile, "Yeah, I don't know what the fuck they do" and a promise of a list of the top five Tastykakes, we're interrupted by one of the owners of the bookstore. Wes Eisold, a friend of the pair and Cold Cave front man, asks if Welchez will have his photo taken next to another photo hanging on the wall. I am also ushered into the photo. "I'm going to put my sunglasses on upside down. How does that strike you?" he asks. I confess I don't know how to make a good face for photos. "You just have to look angry," he says.
This attitude of nonchalance amongst chaos is also exactly what their music is about. Built from simple foundations , their songs grow into a pulsing wall of sound. Welchez punches out his angsty lyrics next to the throbbing but airy melodies that before you know it will have you tricked into snapping your fingers and singing along to their often sinister lyrics. And though these are all three- or four-minute belters, they come together to make a seamless whole on their lo-fi gem of an album, Summer of Hate, that just got released on Fat Possum records at the end of April.
I see Crocodiles live again a few weeks later at a bigger venue on their new tour schedule and, though the total set up couldn't be more different, they're still commanding attention in the same way. They've been squeezed in a corner of the stage (the rest of which is taken up by a stadium-worthy set up of lights and gadgetry for Ladytron and The Faint) with the same little amps and their tinny lights with the taped on red gels that make them hardly visible. But even with the second-class status they've been given they're able to fill the space with sound and attitude. As much as it's good to see them in a venue actually intended for, well, bands, there was something electric about seeing them jiving around within arms reach in a bookstore. That something may be that, when it comes to Crocodiles, you'll someday find yourself starting an obnoxious story with "I saw them when..." MEREDITH BONNER