Saturday, July 24
Better than: Getting your ass kicked around in any other setting.
It's quite possible that every Mister Loveless review written has contained the same two words: "Joy Division." It's a cheap comparison. Yes, the men of Mister Loveless are usually sharply dressed from head to toe in black; and yes, they play rock music heavily influenced by the new wave and postpunk amalgamation Joy Division all but created. But to pigeonhole the Oakland via Walnut Creek band as any one thing would be to invite the wrath of its upcoming album's title -- Grow Up.
As it turns out, the release show for Mister Loveless's new single, "Nineties Children," Saturday night provided a perfect forum to finally nail down the lingering question of "What does this band really sound like?" As the single's title would suggest, the music is right in line with what a '90s child would create. It is just as deeply indebted to the postpunk '70s and '80s scene as it is to the Pixies, Sonic Youth, and classic surf rock. And this isn't the "surf rock" that bloggers have decided Best Coast and Wavves (inexplicably) are. This is the surf rock that you'd see in Quentin Tarantino movies, something with which '90s children would certainly be familiar. These are Link Wray's melodic rumbles -- only if somebody had introduced Wray to a Tube Screamer and Butch Vig.
No matter how you decide to set the barometer for judging Mister Loveless's music, the one irrefutable truth put on display at Bottom of the Hill this Saturday was that these guys know how to put on a rock show. The crisp reverb- and distortion-doused riff-trading between singer Rob Miller and lead guitarist Sean Gaffney never missed a note or transition, all while a rhythm section anchored by Charlie Koliha's backbreaking bass kept impeccable time. Miller's vocals, which are one of the major comparison points to Ian Curtis and Joy Division, were given much more room to breathe. Where some recorded bits sound nasal or constrained, the live renditions were confident and violent, a trait that made Mister Loveless just as at home in Bottom of the Hill as it used to be at Blake's and likely would be at 924 Gilman.
More than anything else, though, Mister Loveless stands out for its earnestness. The refrain of "Strange and Futureless" shamelessly states "Told by the world we'd never fit in/We told the world we never wanted to." On the new single, Miller relates that he "can't stand the thought of who we're supposed to be" and that "we need someone or something to believe in as '90 children." They are lyrics that wouldn't look out of place on an album insert from a high school hardcore band. But instead of casting them as melodramatic appeals for sympathy, Miller phrases these words as thoughtful sighs. "Just Thoughts," the heaviest track of the evening and perhaps a punky homage to Smashing Pumpkins' "Fuck You," spent its first couple of minutes in a serpentine rage before settling into a slowly strummed admission that "they're just thoughts."
In a 2010 interview, the members of Mister Loveless described their excitement over Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. Just as Arcade Fire attempted to explain stifling suburban youth, Mister Loveless audibly can't shake a Walnut Creek upbringing, and instead tries to evenhandedly rationalize the minor disappointments of middle-class adolescence. Although the members have moved to Oakland, lyrics like those above about growing up and defining yourself apart from dances and football games have followed Mister Loveless through its eight-year history. A quick look at Saturday's crowd tells the whole story. Where unenthusiastic hipsters would typically be standing in the front rows taking pictures on their iPhones, a group of late-teens and early-twenties kids was dancing, moshing, and giggling, enjoying every minute of the set.
Mister Loveless knows how to repay those fans' favor. In a one-song encore, the band came back onstage and performed a screaming rendition of its surf-punk instrumental "June," allowing fans to push and shove at the same as they shouted. They may not mask their emotions or fit into a specific niche, but the members of Mister Loveless at least know how to make an audience leave smiling.
Drunk girl moment of the night: Goes to the woman in the red dress in the front row who shouted at Miller to "show me your tits." Thank you for the contribution.
Personal bias: I'm from Walnut Creek, so I can overintellectualize the "crafting anthems about youthful malaise" business, but really, I just ... get it.