February 26, 2011
Better than: Standing still at Best Coast/Wavves.
I have a thing for drummers who sing. There's something about it that triggers endorphins: this is a multitasking musician, both pounding and hollering. It ups the ante from the usual guitarist-singing dynamic. It takes more skills, or maybe it just looks that way.
Dean Spunt, the drummer-singer from Los Angeles duo (trio when live) No Age gave his all Saturday night at the Rickshaw Stop. He was vivacious throughout, singing with all his might while hammering away on the bands' noisy, fuzzy art-punk jams as longtime bandmate Randy Randall skillfully ripped through songs off 2008's Nouns and 2010's Everything in Between. Next to him stood touring bandmate Cundo Bermudez on keyboard and sampler. A screen behind played song-correlating visuals, some of it just eye-popping, colorful psychedelia.
Up front there was a pit of youth (this was an all-ages show) and adults jumping and dancing. The crowd loved the energy and kept shaking through each tune, at least from my viewpoint near the stage. The entire venue was packed with people, from the very back to the level up top, causing an amorphous blob effect when I looked back through the throng.
They're talented musicians, it shows through, but they also are really fun live, something that can be lacking in this not always-ready-to-dance town. And when I say dance, I mean mosh, thrash about, not delicately nod one's head to the music. This band also sounds better live than recorded -- the upbeat energy that can sometimes be lacking from the albums is front and center at their shows. The mood Saturday built to a frenzied pace for popular singles "Glitter" and "Eraser."
Along with their own tunes, the band also covered Black Flag's "Six Pack," which worked in perfectly with the ethos of the night.
Saturday's lineup was like a backwards timeline of the history of punk music. San Francisco's Ranx/Xerox, which actually played second, represents the early 1980s punk vision: straight-forward and hard. The band's sound was reminiscent of its cited influences, like late-'70s So-Cal hardcore outfit Middle Class, especially thanks to drummer Jon Shade. The crowd pitted here as well.
Local lady-punk trio Grass Widow pulls from the 1990s punk aesthetic, with hints of riot grrl. The band is even on Kill Rock Stars, the original home to legendary female-fronted acts such as Bikini Kill, but its collective talent more strongly recalls Sleater-Kinney. Guitarist Raven Mahon's intricate guitar skills shone on stage, but the audience seemed to slow down a bit during the set. Perhaps they were saving energy for the headliners (who play an experimental sound reminiscent of 2000s era art punk).
They also said things like "We made this song up last night or something." Sometimes it felt like that terrible bit on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" in which two performers who clearly have never practiced try to make up a song on the spot by looking at each other and quickly trying to figure out what the other person will say.
The lead singer wore tights, shorts with suspenders, and a neon hat. The band itself seems so very Los Angeles, as a Rank/Xerox member pointed out. He meant it with good intentions, but I saw it differently. I saw it as lack of anything valuable, gone too far into an irony hole. Maybe I'm just getting too old for this shit.
Personal bias: Riot grrrl is my jam, so it was likely predetermined that I would enjoy Grass Widow more than any of the other bands. Also, I too once had that not-cool-once-other-people-like-them superiority complex, but I've since moved on.
Overheard in the crowd: "They're hardly a band!" -- regarding Crazy Band
Random detail: Oddly, No Age thanked local promoter/musician George Chen, then commented, "He's not here but, yeah!"
Mathematics: Given the youths and their parents (yep), I'd guess the average age of the show likely came out to 30.5. But then, I did see a lot of those X-d out hands.