Since the opening of its back room stage in its new store just a few months ago, Oakland, Calif.'s 1-2-3-4 Records, through its consistent shows, has morphed from a record store with a place where small bands can play to a legit venue that people specifically go to see specific bands that just happens to have a record store in front. This was especially apparent Jan. 14, when the venue featured a mix of blog-hyped touring bands as well as some rapidly rising local boys.
Reno, Nev.'s Cathedral Ghost opened the show with some thrashing garage rock. Interestingly, while many garage bands will try to cover their lack of songcraft ability in a wall of sloppy noise, Cathedral Ghost seemed to purposefully minimize unwanted noise, and brought specific sonic focus to their instruments. As the band traversed their fairly short set, they showed that while the garage rock glut is perplexingly increasing, their ability to build energy started first at solid songwriting, rather than visa versa. Still, the band was most impressive on their penultimate number, "Loco Para Ti," where they abandoned the strict confines of garage rock and opened with an almost Melvins-ish drone, only to speed up to a Mötörhead-style chug. If they continue to branch outside of the garage, there's a chance Cathedral Ghost will be on people's lists in the future.
Second act, the Bay Area's Rank/Xerox, seemed to come from an entirely different pedigree. Their forceful numbers were rooted in the energetic throbbing and metallic clang of early English post-punk. As both vocals often sang simultaneously, spouting out ambiguous lyrics, the influence of Gang of Four and Zounds was noticeable, but not overstated. As the band bent airy sounds around a thick lower end, they seemed to momentarily float only to come snapping down at a crucial moment. If they continue making music like this, then it will be fascinating to see how out there they can get.
A random sampling of overheard conversations suggested that Shoppers, from New York, were the most anticipated group of the evening. Their unique approach on punk showed why. Immediately, they cut into an energetic swarm, where the bass, guitar and drums seemed to blend together into a nearly white noise that became identifiable and then amorphous at the group's discretion. Most unique were the vocals. As the lead singer howled, her voice seemed to be coming from miles away, almost creating the illusion of a person shouting through a rainstorm, all while suggesting hints of Crass' Eve Libertine. The band tore through their six songs in such a whirlwind that when they abruptly stopped and thanked the audience, the crowd seemed surprised that the set was ending after a mere 15 minutes. They definitely left the audience wanting more, but maybe too much so…
Closers Neon Piss, from San Francisco, displayed a unique take on punk, drawing influences from so many sources, that they coalesced into a unique entity. Their songs rocked by at a rapid pace, but the songs themselves seemed to be fashioned from a solid understanding of harmony, so that while the songs were fast, they progressed at a natural pace. Somewhat like Rank/Xenox, the vocals seemed to be influenced by English post-punk and the music was much more sung than it was shouted, giving the band an even greater depth and musicality. (Also, the lead singer had a Zounds jacket on.) Still, while their songs were both light and harsh at the same time, they were affected by set problems, including broken guitar chords and difficulty finding a necessary cymbal. The band oozes with potential, but it would seem a little more gravitas towards the gig, even a smaller gig in the back of the record store, would give their music the soul it deserves.
-For the past three years, I have been boohooing illegal file sharing and the general death of bands' ability to make money. But, if the result of this is the creation of cool record store/venue combos like 1-2-3-4 Go Records, I suppose every cloud has a silver lining.
-Cool finds: Captain Sensible's Revolution Now Double LP, Melvins' With yo' heart 7" and the Integrity From the Womb to the Tomb comp CD.