The bouncing and bopping Harlem Shakes played the oh-so-hip Canal Room on February 1st, in honor of the release of their new EP, Burning Birthdays (QRO review). The audience for the Brooklyn band was the epitome of early twenties Williamsburg hipsters, even if they were moved over to the isle of Manhattan (one can only imagine the hipster quotient for the subsequent Union Pool (QRO venue review) release show, on the other side of the East River). The Shakes are young, as was their audience, and while that gave them energy and exuberance to spare, it also highlighted the show’s limits.
The sign read, “Shakes 2-Nite – $8; Shakes 4 Life – $12”: eight dollars to get in, twelve if you want the EP as well, seemed like an incredible deal, especially as the Canal Room (QRO venue review) is far more modern than most venues in New York (and far more clean). It seemed like it could be the perfect marriage of Manhattan quality and Brooklyn prices, but once the model-cum-bartender tells you it’s seven dollars for a beer, you’re reminded exactly which island you’re on. The Shakes tried to loosen the stage up a bit with balloons and a drunkenly made mural, but it ended up looking more like the bandstand at a prom – and the audience didn’t exactly break that mold (albeit, no one was wearing a tux or a corsage).
The Harlem Shakes certainly filled that dais, with not only the standard guitarist-singer-bassist-drummer foursome, but also a keyboardist and a rotating horns section. Their performance was sweaty fun, even better than the already-good Burning Birthdays. Live, there was a lot more of an emotional connection, and The Shakes were able to sustain each of the sometimes-too-long tracks all the way through. The audience was right in tune, from the guy up front whose excitement approached that of the mentally challenged (or someone on E), to the too-cool-for-school hipsters at the back, who couldn’t help but tap their toes.
If the main problem with The Shakes’ EP was that it was only an EP, the main problem with The Shakes’ show was that it was only about forty-five minutes long. Just as the entire audience had finally synched perfectly with the band, it was all over. That could be called ending on a high note, but it felt more like ending barely before they began. Still well worth the eight bucks, but you couldn’t leave without wanting more – much more.
The Harlem Shakes are a young band with a young look from a young place with a young audience, and there’s a lot to be said for that. The main negative, however, is that they simply don’t have enough songs yet to really headline a show. As an opener, they should be a can’t-miss prospect; they’re touring with Deerhoof this February (seemingly everywhere but the East Coast), before returning to Brooklyn to open for Love of Diagrams in March, and anyone catching those shows would be very wise to turn up early. But as the main draw, they really need to learn some new numbers if they want to charge much more than the price of a beer – or maybe just play their entire repertoire twice…