February 28, 2013
The Knockout // Noise Pop 2013
Better than: Listening to your old Zeppelin and Stooges records on vinyl
Six songs. It's enough for an EP, maybe the set of an opening-opening act. No one would think twice about six songs, though. Friends who are hoping to make a record one day have six songs. But in the right set of hands, brilliance can come in small packages. The best set of Noise Pop 2013 may have only been six songs, but Ty Segall was involved in all of them.
It's last night: Segall and his latest project, Fuzz, co-headline The Knockout and didn't even cap off the evening. But their set -- tiny on paper, massive in person -- is the highlight of the evening, maybe of the festival. Fuzz songs aren't your typical four-minute singles. These are tracks meant to be played live, long roadmaps directed by Charlie Moothart's guitar, with only minimal vocals.
When touring after his three 2012 albums Twins, Hair, and Slaughterhouse, Segall was at the forefront of every stage draped in his guitar. Tonight, his drumkit is in that place, as Moothart and Roland Cosio (bass) flank him on each side, just slightly in front. It's clear Segall doesn't get credit often enough for his prowess behind a drumkit. He is a savant, possessing the total package: energy, precision, effortless movement around a kit and plenty of pace.
These songs act as the perfect vehicle for Segall's percussion abilities. The band specializes in heavy riffs with emphatic syncopation. And in between said riffs, the members leave a glorious space within which Segall shows off his chops (think instances like the beginning of Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times"). A new song that gets labeled "Fuck the Words" for the evening takes this formula and runs with it. Segall even does an extended portion of it with his snare turned off, relying on his ability to drive a song without the traditional snare/cymbal focus.
The drummers who come before him this evening are serviceable, but clearly self-taught (white-knuckle fists grabbing sticks or pinkies and ring fingers that remove themselves when riding a cymbal). Segall unintentionally makes them all look insufficient. He's pushing himself to the point that Fuzz has to take a minute to think whether one final song is really a good idea. Segall is cramping, his legs need a minute to extend on the top of the bass drum and he's rubbing his forearms feverishly. But they can't let down this crowd, and ultimately Fuzz opts for the final song. It's blistering. Think of the pace in a song like "Carousel" from Blink 182 and this is right there, maybe even slightly quicker. But Segall doesn't break -- he's just as accurate and exciting as he was on song one.
The Fuzz EP This Time I Got A Reason is a good indication of what the project feels like when flushed out across an entire set. It's more Black Sabbath than the 'garage punk' label often tossed on Segall solo projects. Moothart barely faces the crowd throughout the set, but the guitarist has a massive presence due to the weight of his melodies. He also shows off his own abilities throughout. Sure, it takes a special skill to write such head-banging lines, but Moothart demonstrates plenty of dexterity when it comes time to leave the chords for a solo section. If anything can match Segall's moments of individual brilliance, Moothart is coming close.
It'd be easy to get let down after such a high, but Fuzz's co-headliners come ready to give their best New York Dolls to Fuzz's Sabbath. OBN III ends the night by orchestrating a true punk show. The line between band and stage is abandoned immediately. Singer/namesake Orville Bateman Neeley III spends most of his time off it, letting the sweat drip off his hair onto bouncing fans ready to mix it up.
Neely doesn't play an instrument at any point, but it's easy to see why he became the band moniker. He's wrapping microphone chords around his neck, kicking his legs, and embracing all the commotion of the audience near the front of the stage. Neely sings from the floor at points after getting knocked down, and somehow even has his left pant leg ripped entirely open (so, naturally, he threads his microphone through it). Beers are being sprayed over everyone, the vocal microphone cuts out from time to time. It feels like a night modern music fans only read about.
It doesn't have the musical focus of Fuzz, but OBN III does back up its theatrics well. This is the modern day incarnate of proto-punk, and fans of the Stooges (or the Modern Lovers, or the MC5, etc.) will be pleased. A band trying to do the same thing as Fuzz would've faltered quickly, so OBN III's frenetic change of pace proves to be a great bit of booking.
Style and substance: As Fuzz and OBN III both demonstrated, the ability to act as punks or rockers is only enhanced by kick-ass playing. Opening act number one, G. Green (partially out of Oakland), showcased the playing portion, but its stage precence will probably come with time.
Blasted Canyons, however, brought lots of attitude without too much substance. Rather than settling on a formation, each member ended up playing every part (drums, guitar, keys) throughout the night. It's cool in principle, but this led to a few instances of noticeable drop-offs in quality. Blasted Canyons were also the only act throughout the night to repeatedly complain about the levels during their set. At one point member Hether Fortune simply dropped her guitar and left the stage mid-song (only to return next song and straddle it or faux-balance it on her head). You can get away with antics when you've proven yourself, but the music should come first, not the "show."
The perfect venue:The Knockout deserves some more love. It's just as far off the beaten path as Bottom of the Hill, and on this night it has that same "I can't believe they're playing here" quality. Plus, it's far, far more intimate. You're literally on top of the musicians -- I've been to basement shows in larger spaces. It was the ideal venue for a band like OBN III, but I suspect Fuzz won't be playing spaces like this for very long.
Morning-after note: This is certainly the first show in a long time where you wake up sore and smell like beer the entire morning after. I came away with minimal photos because my equipment would absolutely have been damaged if kept out.
Fuzz didn't even play the entirety of its previously released EP. But the Noise Pop playbill features an interview with Moothart, who reveals that another EP and full album are on the way. So Segall's introduction of a song called "Preacher" is the most accurate setlist available: "This song is new. Well, they're all new."