On a Sunday, I was curious to see what crowd would show for this rainy summer night of punk-ish madness. Sonar introduced Ratsize, leading the show with a loud, messy performance, including a cover of the Adolescents’ “No Way”. Lead vox Pat Martin put on a pretty good show, ramming into the crowd and spitting beer on himself, but the band lost momentum when they paused between songs. Right when you got a steady beat, hyped up and ready for more, the song would end and they’d take a minute to recall next-up on the set list. Maybe it was just Pat getting some Oxygen after choking himself with the mic cord.
Next up was Vincent Black Shadow, and I’m not sure if it was the gangly long-haired bassist rocking out across from me, or the loogie that hit me around the third song, but something about this act was disgustingly exhilarating.
Adam (lead vox) had the perfect voice for this band, along with the killer back-up that built up and broke down in a way that Ratsize would have benefited from. The tempo would change, progressing in different directions to leave the audience suddenly satisfied and itching for more. I’d have to say that VBS was my favorite performance of the evening, if they would just keep playing! Stopping between songs watered down the energy.
Oh, Jay Reatard. Finally, the three join us on stage (something new, as the others played right on the floor). Accompanied by a big afro-ed man on the bass and a drummer, someone who plays all the way through for once- no hesitation. Each song piled on the other and the crowd seemed to respond with absolute gratification.
A pleasant surprise, Jay Reatard’s performance is much more animated than the singles they release on iTunes and Myspace. He sings loud and the music seems more violent, but the voice is never “screamy” which, I believe, allows it to stand out against the rest of the line-up tonight. Definitely more than I expected, I was into the idea that you gotta see him live to understand what he’s really all about.
There can be a mistaken belief that in order for music to be considered “good” it must be innovative. In fact this is often the exception, rather than the rule. If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it. Jay Reatard doesn’t tweak the well-worn conventions of lo-fi garage punk much, but damn it’s still good. His music is the kind of stuff that begs to be experienced live, or at least that was my thinking. But before getting into the mop-headed Reatard, let’s start with the other bands.
Rat Size was actually much better than the average opening band. Again, no new aural ground was broken. This band, like Jay Reatard dwells in that overlapping territory of garage/lo-fi/punk/early hardcore. Gang vocals abound, and who doesn’t love choruses that everyone can sing along to? I would call this a whiskey and coke (not the mixed drink) kind of band, or at least I think that was the aesthetic they were trying to carry. Before one song the singer announced, “This is a song about being a fucking train wreck.” But watching a band do the whole rock train wreck thing during a set seldom works. The set would have worked better if the songs were delivered in rapid succession. Instead, there were extended breaks between songs so beers could be downed, and breath could be caught. Why such the rapid heart rate guys?
The highlight of Rat Size’s set was the cover of the Adolescents’ classic “No Way.” I wasn’t kidding when I said nothing new was presented. The band has an upcoming show at the Nerve Center, which should be a prefect fit of band and venue. Who knows, maybe get some kids skating on the mini ramp?
Vincent Black Shadow, or at least Baltimore’s version of that band (“We’re from Hampden!” yelled singer Adam Savage to clear up any confusion with another band with a very similar name) was up next. The focal point, or I should say vocal point, of the set was Savage’s voice. The dude is a virtuoso of screaming, yelling, grunting, etc. He has the ability to completely change the timbre of this voice instantly. The rest of the band provided much more than a mere base for the vocals. As far a musicianship Vincent Black Shadow blew away the rest of the bill, but than again, Jay Reatard isn’t try to get noticed for his guitar playing.
I’m not quite sure how to categorize VBS. Metal? Not really, though there are some build-ups, and breakdowns. Punk? I guess as an influence, but what rock music made after 1980 isn’t influence by punk? Grindcore? VBS has got screaming, but the songs clock in at about 4 minutes, not 30 seconds. I guess the point is that music shouldn’t be about taxonomy, or systematics. A rose is still a rose, and sweaty, longhaired dude screaming is still awesome.
The key word for Jay Reatard’s set was urgency. He took the stage while everyone was still talking and just started playing with no introduction. The pacing for his set? Urgent. The entire set was one long salvo of sonic shelling. No break between songs, save for screaming out titles (other bands take note!)
I couldn’t tell, and I still as off writing, haven’t made up my mind as to whether Jay Reatard sense of speed was a product of his song style, or because he literally wanted to get the fuck out of there. Maybe both? There was no engagement of the audience by Reatard. At best he seemed disinterested, at worst condescending. This could be part of the act though. I’ll give him the benefit of doubt.
The set was performed on the stage, while the prior two acts had been on the floor. This fact combined with Jay’s I’m-just-here-to-play-my-songs attitude meant the 4th wall was firmly in place. This and the knowledge that audience members venturing to close to Jay might get punched in the face, and have the video run on the Internet. Only one kid did a stage dive, and he launched his body from stage right, well away from a wrathful Reatard. All these factors, and the fact that it was Sunday night, meant that the crowd energy was lacking.
I think it’s a simple function; the energy produced during the set equals that of the performer and the audience combined. However, the crowd’s energy is proportional to that of performer’s. But the performer is affected, too, by the audience’s vibe.
In short, I was really surprised by the lack of enthusiasm on all sides during the Jay Reatard set. Sonically it was all there, but a show isn’t just about listening intently, it’s about getting into that all out aural state of consciousness.
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