I had only been back in Philly a few days -- long enough to have some scrapple, a cheesesteak, watch a few Phillies games, drink plenty of Yuengling and hit up Wawa five or six times -- when I saw that No Age was playing at the Church. The Church was on my list of things needed to get fully back into the swing of Philadelphia, but it was also the possibility of seeing how No Age, a two-piece, could duplicate their often dense and layered sound live that got me out to the show.
I arrived at the end of Abe Vigoda's set, a group who hail from the same small L.A. scene as No Age, and much like their noisy comrades, are also beloved by Pitchfork. Still, the similarities seem to end there, as the two songs I caught by the band sounded like Q and Not U gone tropically space age. Squawking, tinny and delay-rich guitars dominated the band's sound, showing a group that seemed to rely too heavily on effects and not enough on stage presence.
Mary Pearson and Robert Barber, the duo that make up High Places, set up next behind two tables full of the sort of knob-twiddling gadgets that leave the audience with a view of nothing more than a tangled mess of cables. Their music was an interesting mix of production that hit on everything from M.I.A. to Hot Chip and the Russian Futurists. What the band seemed to do best, however, was overlap rhythms. Often a tribal drum line -- courtesy of Barber's drum pad -- would bounce on top of a thudding hip-hop pulse or speedy club thump making for a criss-crossing collage of sound. Still, the band did have a few problems. The largest may have been the fact that when you are performing a set that contains predominantly pre-recorded music, you better be ready to shake some ass, and while there was the occasional move busted, for the most part it just felt like watching two producers twist and turn knobs in the studio. The other problems came via sound, as Pearson's vocals -- perhaps in an attempt to duplicate the lo-fi style of their recordings -- were often faded and lost, while some of the band's extra percussion toys weren't being picked up by the mics at all.
So what about No Age?
Within one song the duo showed that re-producing their swirling, pounding wall of sound was no problem. And, maybe it's the two members hardcore background, but live the band were not tech-nerds constantly focused on pedals and mixers, but instead embraced their scrappy, garage side. Guitarist Randy Randall was a jerky, head-bobbing vision of rock mayhem, while drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt's ferocious arm swinging led him to pause every two or three songs so he could catch his breath and down half a bottle of water. The jittery dance moves found throughout the crowd also seemed to energize the band who announced, perhaps too often, "You guys are fucking awesome!"
And while it was nice to be called awesome, and later rad, it was No Age who deserved those titles as they simply thrashed through songs like "Eraser," "Teen Creeps," "Cappo" and "Here Should Be My Home," each of which came complete with its fuzzed-out layers and echoing cries. There was no doubt the band had found their zone, or groove, or any of your other favorite terms for being dead on. Even when Randall broke a guitar string mid-song he made his switch to a new guitar so quickly that the pause almost seemed natural. I guess sometimes just getting noisy and energetic still works.