It was a night of young up-and-comers and old pros from the Asian Man roster March 24 at San Francisco's Bottom of the Hill. As each band cut through its short set, the mutually exclusive assets of youth and experience each showed their value.
Kill the Bats, who had a lead singer dressed as Batman and the remaining three members of the band dressed as Robin, opened the show with a mix of punk that took from many aspects of the genre. At times the band thrashed with a full speed hardcore attack. At others, it broke down into a warm, Weezer-ish intonation. The band was energetic, and deftly melded the different takes of the genre into a single portrait, but the costumes, as humorous as they were, seemed to detract from the actual music. It did not seem as though the actual songs had relation to Batman or the DC universe. Certainly, wackiness is to be encouraged in punk, but if Kill the Bats wants to wrestle its own identity, perhaps a hook that is less defined than the Batman would better affix the music to the message.
Gnarboots, the punk rock Frank Zappas, began their set with a unique set up. While the band usually exists as a three-piece, like Zappa, you never know what you're going to get live. First, Gnarboots frontman Aaron Carnes did the entire performance in a dress shirt, tie…and boxer briefs. It was not a pretty sight. Second, for the Bottom of the Hill show, Gnarboots had expanded into an eight-piece ska monstrosity, with several members of Adam Davis' old band, Link 80, providing the brass. (They even had a melodica! Augustus Pablo *what*!)
While Gnarboots aren't strictly a ska band on record, for their performance, they blasted through two handfuls of high energy, fast and sloppy third wave ska jumpers. In fact, they were so excited, that they played their song "Mike Park" three times in a row, with different lyrics the second two times, and then played their meta-tune "Do the Ska" three times in a row. Then, midway through their show, they decided to fire their drummer. Carnes assumed the percussion and the band then summarily dismissed their entire band, thereby reducing themselves to their core three members, who then performed what can accurately be described as…well…Whitney Houston meets the Beastie Boys meets Refused…I guess. It sounds stupid, and it is, and it's also random and wonderful and new and is one of the most refreshing things in punk today.
As Classics of Love took the stage, frontman Jesse Michaels deadpanned, "Thank you for coming out. We love you all. The fun is over." Immediately, the band (composed of San Jose, Calif.'s Hard Girls) kicked into the hardcore-influenced songs from their debut full-length. While their LP is a high energy barnstormer, live, the band increases its attack. The tunes that used to reference Poison Idea in execution now reference Discharge. The tunes that used to referenced Discharge now reference a jackhammer. So focused on the new album was the band that its set comprised of nearly the entire full-length and nothing else in a short 18 minutes. As tight as the songs were in the studio, live, the band both gets wilder and buckles down. The guitars are fiercer, the drums crack with more vigor, and Michaels screams with a Keith Morris intensity all while retaining that uniquely Michaels soul in the bottom of his delivery.
But, most impressively, was that while the live songs are wild, the band is now so cohesive that when it increases the speed, instead of breaking apart, the elements lock even tighter, forging a single, sonic pulverizer that starts with the first note and doesn't end until Michaels says "That's it. Thanks for coming out." It's a shame that Classics of Love is now on a reduced schedule due to members' various commitments. Let's hope that they continue onward, because music needs them, and it needs them badly.
Joyce Manor closed out the show. Although they group has a new album scheduled to be released next month, it seemed that its audience already knew all the words. While the evening's previous bands specialized in rampaging, Joyce Manor seemed to focus on audience interaction, keeping a mid-tempo pace that enabled the crowd to belt out choruses instead of stand back in awe. But, while the band specialized in hooky riffs and heart-on-the-sleeve exposition, every so often, it would drop into nastier territory, briefly assuming a hardcore or crust grind, before coming back up for air. It was at these points that the band was most interesting, as Joyce Manor seems to be one of the few acts able to blend the discordant with friendlier fare. Checking sites and blogs seems to suggest that the young band is the new face of underground punk, and its ability to intertwine the friendly with the fierce is probably the reason why.
-I saw no less than three dudes each with their respective left arms tattooed entirely in a flat black. What is that? Is there a secret orgcore club or something?
-No disrespect to Joyce Manor, who played a great set, but how did Classics of Love not headline this set? Jesse Michaels is a Don and the Hard Girls are consiglieres.
-On my drive home, I listened to the Bay Area's 98.1 "Saturday Night Disco" and it was POPPIN'! There is A LOT of good disco, I don't care what anyone says.