Tim Fite comes across like an escapee from a Heather McAdams cartoon. A moon-faced gent with a wide-eyed quizzical stare like a three-year-old caught in the cookie jar, Fite—usually dressed in a white cotton striped suit—suggests a put-on. Which isn't to say that he's a joke and can't be taken seriously. Quite the contrary: He's a serious joker who cracks serious jokes with serious punchlines. The first time that I saw the guy ( actually "guys"—Fite's partner is laptop wiz Sexy LeRoy ) was at last year's Hideout Block Party where he sang about the telltale dabs of food on your post-meal clothes ( "HEY!!! You got mustard on yo titty!!!" ) while hacking up dozens of watermelons with a machete. His heavily sampled music is a ping-ponging computer generated funhouse ride reminiscent of '50s-era Spike Jones and his singing has the agitated fury of a sanctified baby. And these guys are from Brooklyn.
They're also the funniest thing that I've seen in ages and the smartest. Alt humor? Well whatelse to call it? Schubas' small stage fit them a whole lot better than the vacant lot next to the Hideout on that perfect summer day. In fact, Fite is better appreciated in tight dark places, and they certainly don't seem like the kind of guys who go to the beach or festivals. The whole show was choreographed with projected animation, sing along lyrics, and overlapped images of Fite making like the Supremes after a binge of sucking the gas out of cans of whipped cream. Each song was introduced as written by the "man with itchy legs,"—oddly, the song titles aren't referenced on either of his two albums—and while Fite wiggled and shook like a funkified toddler, LeRoy busied himself by humping the monitors, shimmying on the floor through the audience, and yammering like a wind-up doll. The music was just as nutty. "What Dogs Eat," a quick interlude augmented by rudimentary animation showed what dogs do eat ( nails, babies, dog poop... ) , while a song about two friends going out for a bite to eat and then looking for someone to mug afterward was just as inane and straightfaced as the idea sounds. Then there was the one about the horrors hidden within the cuddly cuteness of koala bears. What was funnier: the songs or Fite's bug-eyed serious expression? It was hard to tell: Though LeRoy didn't crack a smile, Fite himself kept doing a Harvey Korman whenever the SRO crowd sang back at him. Deadpan goofiness dosen't get any better than this.
Opener Benjy Ferree was a stripe of another flavor, and this particular booking must be one of the oddest oddball pairings for the year. Ferree and his band were a sartorial mash-up like the business end of vinegar and oil in an atomic fusion chamber. Bassist Jonah Takagi stuck to the shadows in grunge wear, lovely Laura Dean Harris wore an elegant gold blouse that barely held up to her skin-bashing, and guitarist Drew Mills suggested a slick Texas Romeo with his blondish slicked pompadour, cowboy boots and natty vest. Ferree was wrapped in hugely cuffed denim jeans, jack boots and a denim jacket with "The Bowery" sewn on the back. But if this bunch didn't look like they belonged on the same stage, the collision of musical styles was just as eclectic. The Ferree bunch came on exaclty one notch below "over the top"—they're all barrelhouse blues, deep crush Detroit hard rock, raucous blue eyed soul, breath and beat. "Intense" is putting it mildly; this twentysomething crowd seemed positively scared of them—which makes sense since Ferree came on at full throttle, shaking like a Pentacostal high priest in the throes of exorcism. With a new CD in the works, here's hoping that Ferree gets back here before the year is out.