A Nov. 21 Style article on the band OK Go contained several errors. It incorrectly used the song title "Here It Goes Again" as the title of the group's second album, which was called "Oh No." That song was also incorrectly identified as having been used for the group's first video. The article also erred in saying that OK Go formed in 1998 as the house band for the radio program "This American Life." The band did not work with "This American Life" until 2000. Also, the article incorrectly stated that OK Go's last show in Washington was in April 2005; the band played as an opening act in October 2005.
At 9:30 Club, OK Go Adds Plenty to Its 'Million Ways' Mystique
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Novelty is most appreciated where it is least needed. Sure, OK Go did wrap up its show at the 9:30 club Sunday night, as is the group's custom, with a dance -- specifically, the YouTube-iquitous "A Million Ways" routine, performed before a projected video of chief songwriter Damian Kulash's back yard, where he and his band shot the original clip. But they did the boy-band thing only a fter delivering a sweaty 75-minute set of frenetic, angular power-punk that would surely have shut up anyone inclined to dismiss the quartet as a novelty act.
The "Million Ways" video and its even more inventively low-fi follow-up, the dancing-on-treadmills clip for "Here It Goes Again," have fueled a surge in OK Go's popularity since its last show here, at the Black Cat in April 2005. The headlining gig at the 9:30 represented not just a graduation but a homecoming: Though now a resident of Los Angeles, frontman Kulash grew up near Friendship Heights, and recalls spending his weekends watching the likes of Fugazi, Shudder to Think, Jawbox and Nation of Ulysses play when he was in high school in the early '90s.
Kulash paid homage to none of those bands at the 9:30 gig, though he did dedicate a cover of Electric Light Orchestra's "Don't Bring Me Down" to his mom, which gave a hint of the toothachy sweetness tempering the singer-guitarist's hard-core roots. The band specializes in hooky guitar pop that stops just short of saccharine.
OK Go may not sell a huge number of records, but it is a cultural phenomenon. The first video, from the album "Here It Goes Again," is among the most popular ever posted on YouTube, having been viewed nearly 8.5 million times. "Oh No," the group's year-old sophomore release, is nearing gold status after receiving an unexpected boost near the end of the summer, when "Here It Goes Again" became the group's second YouTube-fueled bonanza.
What makes the story stranger still is that OK Go wouldn't seem to need to do its own promotion -- the band is, after all, on Capitol Records. But the Capitol-financed, infinitely more polished-looking "official" videos for "Invincible" and "Do What You Want," two other "Oh No" tracks, haven't had anywhere near the same impact as the group's self-produced efforts, which were choreographed by Kulash's sister, professional dancer and choreographer Trish Sie, and shot with camcorders.
"A D.C. boy raised on Dischord should never have gotten his hands bloody on a major label," Kulash said with a laugh before the show Sunday night. "The truth is we just make the stuff we want to make, and we're looking for ways to get it out there and make people listen to it and pay attention to it."
It's the same rationale he uses for having licensed "Do What You Want" to JCPenney for use in a TV commercial. "Licensing opportunities that used to be incredibly uncool are now the way you get your songs out there," he noted. "I could go on all day listing the bands that have broken because of an iPod commercial or a Volkswagen commercial."
It's not as if OK Go's credibility is in jeopardy. It's got plenty of geek cachet, having played its first shows outside of Chicago, where the group formed in 1998 as the house band for Public Radio International's "This American Life." After finally releasing a self-titled debut on Capitol in 2002, the group made a series of short films for the Web, notably the hilarious "OK Go Table Tennis," a parody of a '70s fitness video, as well as the "Federal Truth in Music Project" series of comic shorts.
What's most remarkable about these little movies is that they manage to dodge the bullet of preciousness, if only just -- the world is full of educated, self-aware white rock bands that think they're funny. These guys really are.
"The most exciting thing about being in a rock band for us is the opportunities it offers for everything creatively," Kulash said. "There aren't a lot of jobs where you could say, 'And the next thing we should do, we should make a ping-pong instructional video!' But here, anything is justified. That's really what keeps it from being repetitive and monotonous. Touring is basically repetitive and monotonous."
You'd never know he felt that way on the evidence of Sunday night's inspired show.