I see a lot of bands, and some I see a lot. More than any, I’ve seen emmet swimming (over 50 in various incarnations, not including various solo projects by lead singer Todd Watts). Saturday we went to see them at Ned Devine’s in Herndon, and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen of theirs. I won’t deny, it was shaping up to be a good evening, we’d had a good meal with friends and had gotten to the pub with plenty of time to see The Hypersonic Secret, which included a member of emmet (and all members of various local bands. They played a number of new songs, I particularly like “Evil Twin” and “All I’ve Got To Do Is Break Your Heart”.
emmet swimming formed in 1990; I first saw them in 1994. I became aware of them through The Local Music Store, a distribution network that sold local CDs and we used at the new and used music store I co-owned at the time. They were a top seller and big on the local scene, but it wasn’t until I read an interview with them that I realized I’d gone to high school with the drummer (we were in the drum section in marching band together). I liked their music, and their live shows sold me – energetic and playful. Since I was living in Annandale and they were usually playing in Fairfax, it was easy to see them often and I did. They got a 3 record deal with Sony, had radio play, and seemed poised to break through – except they didn’t (blame fate, the label, whatever). Realizing it was doubtful they’d be able to make a real living (just like me and my store), they stopped touring in 2000 and got day jobs. Thankfully they continued playing, but now only a couple shows a year. I inherited the unofficial concert archive and continue to update it.
Like any band who only performs occasionally, and as much as I like them, I have to admit that some of the shows have been uneven. Some of the better ones have been at the 9:30 Club, and I wasn’t expecting too much as it was a small place and they hadn’t played in over six months. But it was great from the start – “Angst II” and “Fake Wood Trim” were good lead off songs, and “Stealing From The Joneses” and “Clean Water” had everyone going. The whole place pogoed like it was 1996 to “Boones Farm Wine” and “Jump In The Water”, then they took a break.
After they started again with “Off Key Choir”, I was spotted and they gave me a shoutout, saying “the Mayor of Herndon is here”. They said they had a surprise I’d like – one of my favorites. “Broken Oar” was next, and it is my favorite emmet song (especially now that Scott’s in the band – he did the great duet on their live album), but not much of a surprise. Instead, they pulled out their cover of Lou Reed’s “Lisa Says”, which they didn’t think they’d played in 12 or 14 years, and I can’t argue with that. It was indeed one of my favorites from the days they played TT’s, and great to hear again – in honor of the occasion, there’s a version here from 1996.
They ended with the classic set enders of “Arlington” and their cover of the Police’s “So Lonely”. It was close to last call, but the crowd demanded one more, so they obliged with “You’re So Pretty”. Tamer’s drumming was on fire, Scott’s bass was lean and mean, Erik’s guitaring was tight and both Scott’s and Erik’s backing vocals slipped right behind Todd’s lead. The crowd gave back as much energy as the band put out, and even though we’re getting old, it was worth having to stand in a smoky bar for the duration.