Ride it, my pony
After a long summer of arena-pop shows, mega-raves and giant festivals, The Spin was totally in need of a low-key, low-attendance local rock show with a bunch of bands most people haven't heard of. We had to get back to our roots, y'all — pyro and light shows and, um, foam-rubber penis costumes are all well and good, but sometimes it's just fun to watch great musicians play great music without all the bells and whistles. Last Thursday night at the Exit/In was exactly what the doctor ordered: a pretense-free show with local stalwarts Hands Down Eugene and newcomers By Lightning! and Ponychase.
For starters, any evening where two-thirds of the bill has a Jerry Pentecost-Matt Moody rhythm section is just going to rule. Each of those dudes is a force to be reckoned with on his own, but when you put the two together, it makes for the most solid foundation a rock band could ever ask for. Hands Down Eugene started the night off, with Moody on bass and vocal duties, and sent in a killer set of George Harrison-meets-Doug Martsch stoner pop. The Spin isn't exactly sure why these guys never quite caught on around here, because they are incredible every time we see them, and the songs are some of the best in town.
We hate to throw around the "super-group" tag, 'cuz it's kinda trite, but that's pretty much the only way to describe By Lightning! What else can you call a band made up of members of De Novo Dahl, the late lamented Dixie Dirt and the aforementioned Pentecost-Moody rhythm section? Super is the only way to describe it. Sorta folky, definitely poppy and prone to just, well, rocking the fuck out, By Lightning! is seven folks having such a good time making music that the fun becomes contagious, and even crusty rock critics have to smile and shout. The thing that rules about By Lightning! is that even though there are seven people onstage, there's tons of dynamic ebb and flow. It's not full-blast for a full set. And lots of hand clapping. Which is nice, because onstage hand clapping has seen a decline in town in recent years.
And again, we hate to overuse the whole "super-group" thing. But damn, Ponychase! Doni Schroader and Beth Cameron from Forget Cassettes in a band with Jordan Caress and Alex Caress? That's a goddamn super-group too! That's four of the most accomplished and creative musicians this rock scene has ever produced all on one stage at one time. And then when you add in the fact that they make late '80s-style dream pop that manages to somehow remind us of Kate Bush and Automatic-era Jesus and Mary Chain — well, if J+MC could, like, actually sing and play — you've got some serious record-critic bait. If you put a Ponychase song in a bear trap, it's a guarantee that The Spin would die an agonizing death alone in the woods — and be totally stoked about it.
A lot of bands are trying to pull off this synthy, pre-shoegaze ethereal sound, but none that we've heard — and we've heard a lot of them — have the musical and vocal chops to pull it off. Ponychase, on the other hand, has two of the best singers you're liable to find anywhere blowing minds in tandem. The songwriting is great too — dramatic without being histrionic, hazy without being meandering, gorgeous without going too far off the deep end into self-absorbed wankery. Even our metal-as-a-motherfucker photographer admitted that Ponychase is one of the best new bands in town! Let's just say that The Spin was left slack-jawed by the coolness we saw onstage last Thursday, even though there were no explosions or foam genitals.
Booze springs eternal
Unlike undergarments, air-conditioning filters and sex partners, most of us claim to like our rock 'n' roll as filthy as it comes. But catching just that sort of dirty rock 'n' roll in a venue like Springwater is the difference between knife-and-forking a fried mayonnaise sandwich off a crystal platter and failing to snatch it up off the ground before it's had five seconds to gather any germs — it's all about presentation. And as far as Friday night went, sleaze was the only thing on the menu.
Things kicked off somewhere around rock o'clock, when Denny and the Jets started cranking out bar-friendly blues punk to a politely seated room of folks. Slowing their roll occasionally into a honky-tonkin' tear-jerker, the band picked up the pace as a mob of patrons came rifling through the door. Yeah, it was a little dingy and rough around the edges, but still clean enough to fly over — just as it did with the Exit/In crowd when Denny opened for outlaw country legend Billy Joe Shaver just the other night.
We wouldn't realize just how much greasy muck we'd be wiping out of our ears until Thelma and the Sleaze came on next. This trio of knockabout dames sounds literally no less menacing than they look, taking their name much more literally than you'd expect. Combining the feminist onslaught of Sleater-Kinney and the heavy pop crunch of Thin Lizzy, their sleazy, muscle-bound riffs oozed off the stage with a confrontational, disreputable tone. With the stage lit solely by a plastic, leg-shaped lamp (yep, like the one in A Christmas Story), the band's lewdly androgynous stage presence — shirtless guitarists, black tape over the nips, etc. — ensured this was about the seediest rock show you could get without technically breaking any laws. The crowd had thinned considerably by set's end, leaving only a hardcore row of females still pumping fists until the very last song and proving these ladies may have successfully trumped the Springwater in terms of legendary rack and ruin.
So let's get this out of the way: Liquor Store, Jay Reatard. The story of their beef is nearly two years old now, but still seems to get brought up in press every time the New Jersey band is mentioned. Fortunately, Liquor Store is too badass a band to go the way of the Von Bondies' ass-whipped reputation. The only thing more noticeable than the army of guitars onstage was frontman Sarim Al-Rawi, who was possibly either wired on meth or born with an aversion to blinking. Either way, Liquor Store rips a fierce and earnest set of epic hardcore that pisses on the sexually charged immediacy of The New York Dolls and dumps it into a trashcan full of sun-warped Misfits and Alternative TV demos. They occasionally stray into a psychy dirge or Queen-esque diversion, but they never drift from the down 'n' dirty basics for too long. Rule of thumb: In addition to being both physically and sonically dirty, it pretty much always helps if your rock 'n' roll doesn't give a shit — about anything.
Rounding out the evening was a hazy, heady, sticky, stinky set from [insert another marijuana reference here] Natural Child. Sluggish grooves and scream-along choruses abounded, and the group triumphantly plowed through most of their latest, 1971, with a few choice faves from their self-titled 7-inch and the Body Switchers cassette. It was a nice and smoky cleansing to wash away the sonic grime we'd accrued over the evening before we drove home smelling like sonic sewage — in the best way possible.
Now, off to wash away the funk we accumulated at Springwater. Email email@example.com.