by Jordan Green
The twentysomethings dressed in capes and witch hats for a couple hundred feet along the shopping center strip on Lawndale Drive who were waiting to get into Geeksboro at 10 p.m. on Dec. 5 were the first clue that this wasn’t your ordinary rock concert.
Dressed in a black graduation gown, owner Joe Scott approached a knot of devotees at the end of the line.
“You have to volunteer or pay,” Scott told one them.
“I’ll volunteer,” the guy responded.
“Follow me,” Scott said, as if he had selected them for a most sensitive and crucial mission.
Inside, librarians and college writing instructors, among other enthusiasts, filled the spacious storefront coffeehouse for the second night of the annual Harry Potter Holiday Yule Ball. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban played silently on a screen at the back of the hall as festive green, red and blue lights bathed the space, and patrons formed a line for house-made butter beer (a combination of cream soda and butterscotch syrup) and other beverages. A table in the back stocked trays of shepherd’s pie, chocolate pudding and white-chocolate frogs.
No one seemed to mind that it was about 11:30 when the band, aptly named Harry & the Potters, readied to perform. The anticipatory mood among the hundred-plus people in the hall approached collective delirium with a fervor that would be expected at, well, a rock concert.
“The whole reason we built Geeksboro was to make a place for people to get excited about things that you’re not normally supposed to get excited about,” Scott said. “For people who love Duke basketball, there’s a bar where you can go to be with other people who love Duke basketball, and that’s fine. I wanted a place where you could get excited about videogames, TV shows with zombies and… books!”
Joe DeGeorge, dressed identically to his brother Paul in a light gray cardigan sweater over a dress shirt and tie welcomed the audience. He gave an incantation of sorts, that gospel-cum-rock testimonial that is the stock and trade of the genre that evolved into an AC/DC-style pledge to rock and roll.
“Say it after me: ‘I will do my duty to rock and roll,” DeGeorge charged. “‘And I will use my voice to make change because I am Harry Potter and I am magic.’”
They opened with a song called “Baby Wiz” that everyone in the audience found hilarious, and then moved to “Christmas at Hogwarts,” a song with a catchy sing-along chorus.
Billing themselves as “the first wizard rock band,” Harry & the Potters have released several albums and have played hundreds of live shows since they launched in Massachusetts in 2002. Both of the DeGeorge brothers, who wear their black hair in tousled mop-tops and large, round glasses, go by the stage name of Harry Potter. Contrasting with the brothers’ thematic uniformity, their drummer Mike Harpring wore a T-shirt honoring the pioneering black punk band Death.
Anchored by Harpring’s intensely focused drumming, the instrumental texture of Harry & the Potters’ music rests on Paul’s guitar playing and Joe on keyboards, with occasional turns at the saxophone. The brothers share vocal duties. The Potters’ sound resembles the loose, raucous proto-punk of fellow Massachusetts natives Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, with a nod to catchy power-pop of latter-day practitioners like Weezer. Lyrically, the songs are consistently simple, with endless references to the Harry Potter franchise carrying the burden of signifying.
For those who are unfamiliar with the wildly popular series of books and movies, the lyrics of “Hermione Screws Up the Polyjuice Potion” will sound inane. In their entirety, they consist of “Hey cat lady/ Meow, meow/ Hey cat lady/ Meow/ Ron likes your whiskers/ Ron likes your fur/ Hey cat lady/ Meow meow/ Hey.”
Mixing punk irreverence with childlike play, Paul DeGeorge exemplified the band’s interactive approach by shouting the first line of the song, followed by a feline “meow” typically inches away from the face of a female fan.
Venturing into political hardcore territory with “SPEW” — for the uninitiated, an acronym for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare — the band took crowd interaction a step further by having random audience members yell the word “spew” in their most rocking voice, although nerdy enthusiasm also seemed perfectly serviceable.
The band’s hilarious value proposition — a contrast between nerdy enthusiasm for wizardry and rock-and-roll zeal — was heightened by the mayhem of their stage presentation. Taking a tip from MC5 or Black Flag, Joe DeGeorge could be seen writhing on the floor or shaking his keyboard above his head.
Around 1 a.m., the band took a final stand for good prevailing over evil with a two-chord song whose lyrics were entirely encapsulated in its title: “Xmas Rulez, Voldemort Drools.” As the simple punk song evolved into a grindcore number, the two brothers called out every Harry Potter character that came to mind, prompting gales of laugher.
Then the concert ended in a paroxysm of spent energy and the guys headed for the merch table, where an appreciative line of fans was already waiting.
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