Merchandise frontman Carson Cox stepped onto the Music Hall of Williamsburg stage Tuesday night right out of central casting, it would appear, for a remake of a Brando or Dean flick celebrating men of a different era blessed with a certain je ne sais quoi. His sandy blond hair shaded his sculpted jaw, his T-shirt rolled above his bicep like some neo-greaser, his voice toed an androgynous line both sensual and aggressive. An overhead green stage light highlighted his mysterious, effervescent cool.
He screamed without screaming: “I am here. Watch me.”
Hailing from Tampa, Fla., a bay city not renowned for its effervescent cool, the quintet Merchandise plays lush rock-n-roll that lingers in the air, searching, yearning, driving toward something unknown. They started out playing DIY shows in the Sunshine state, and have since evolved to a sound classicists would not label punk. They’ve released three solid records, the most recent of which, After the End, dropped earlier this year on 4AD. Oh, and there are the Morrissey comparisons vis a vis the aching, feminine air to Cox’s croon.
Merchandise’s physicality on-stage grabbed me as much as its sound. For instance, Cox kicking and punching the shadows before him, lead guitarist/Italian jitterbug Dave Vassalotti juking and jiving and playing from his knees, and a bassist that looked like he could’ve suited up on the Tampa Bay Bucs’ offensive line. Sure, songs like “Green Lady” and “Anxiety’s Door” delighted my ears. Yet, when Cox announced to the crowd that this or that number provided an opportunity for moshing or dancing, respectively, what ensued never forced me to lose myself to the music, to paraphrase a !!! line. (Sidenote: I’d have loved if Merchandise had played the gorgeous, expansive “Become What You Are” but, alas, no dice.)
By the time Vassalotti’s guitar howled triumphant toward the end of “No You And Me” I longed to trade the stale, warm air of Music Hall of Williamsburg for the cool night. Merchandise is a band that will no doubt headline a larger venue, for a higher ticket price, in New York City in 2015. Cox’s old Hollywood qualities almost assure this.