Variety was the theme of the night at Cupertino's X Bar (actually the bar connected to a bowling alley). Grand Fanali Presents, the show's promoter, seemed to making the argument that San Jose and the surrounding area hosts a bevy of diverse punk bands. As the different groups took the stage on May 7, 2011, the mostly young crowd fluctuated from jam-packed to roomy, seemingly pulled equally by captivating performances and curfews.
San Jose's the Pillowfights kicked off the show with fast, snappy, sugary punk-pop. Fresh off a fairly new seven-inch and CD, the group tore through tunes without breaking for air. Danny, the group's lead vocalist, blended her voice halfway between Discount and the lighter Ramones fare. While the group isn't necessary breaking new ground, their mix of snotty lyrics and sincerity hit the bullseye for those that are down with the genre.
Next, San Jose/Oakland's Gnarboots took the stage and made the move to be the most bizarre act of the night. While they started off playing some well-executed melodic hardcore, suddenly, they threw their instruments aside, and a muzak-style ska tune drifted from an attached iPod. The majority of the crowd seemed familiar with the tune, and all three members and the audience gang-sang a song dedicated to Mike Park and his ska addiciton that was as hilarious as it was sincere. Apparently now in hip-hop mode, the group snapped into a song dedicated to none other than...why yes, Punknews...before rapidly flipping through rap songs that, although having a comedy bend, seemed to be crafted with as much care as the serious stuff. Before closing out the set, the group broke into what I can only assume is the world's only hip-hop goth tune, and then collected their instruments and blended into an almost Melvins-ish drone tune. Between their style changes and driving straight through the rules of multiple genres, Gnarboots might be one of the most punk bands today.
After thanking the crowd for the support, San Jose's Matsuri kicked into a mix of hardcore, drone metal, and ambient textures. Heavily instrumental, the group fluctuated between quiet drifting sounds and volume so loud that it almost became white noise. Displaying technical—but not masturbatory—guitar pieces, the group slid between screaming and cleaner sounds.
Shifting from the electric to the organic, Santa Cruz's Blackbird Raum set up their decidedly lo-fi gear. Comprising of, among other instruments, a washtub bass, accordion and maybe a washtub itself, the group played a mix of anarcho-punk and morbid sea shanties. Strikingly, the group didn't seem to have a single vocalist so much as an entire group that sang in unison. Combining the morbid with the energetic, their tunes could have just as likely come from the 1500s as well as a nuclear wasteland.
Finally, San Jose's Hard Girls (a.k.a. three-fourths of the titanic Classics of Love) took to the stage, quickly kicking into their introspective but forceful set. While the group's recorded output has somewhat of a more delicate, contemplative sound, live, they've put some juice under the hood and jacked up the energy, while still keeping control of their tunes. Playing their side of their recent split with Kudrow, Hard Girls made it clear how the reflective and the rapid can work together. Dual vocalists Mike and Morgan bounced near hardcore screaming and soulful singing off each other, balancing the group's spectrum. While Classics of Love has been tearing it up on the hardcore side, it seems that the guys backing Jesse Michaels can cut some pretty kicking tunes on their own, as well as kick out the jams live, too.