A few notes from last night's Kill Rock Stars reunions for a good cause:
I only caught the last three minutes of Thrones (aka Joe Preston, Joe Preston's bass, some racks of gear, and a mighty amplification system): a low, whirring drone crested with occasional whitecaps of treble. A friend told me the other 27 minutes of his set were pretty much the same thing; I could've at least done with another 10 of it.
C Average played a short set of just three songs. The first one started sludgy and muffled, drummer Brad Balsley rolling out big gut-rumbling drum fills, but when Jon Merithew switched the guitar pickups for a high squealing solo, the Croc's lights came flashing on and spinning around and something about the lights and the band's demeanor made it seem like the cheesiest little talent show ever in a really endearing way. The duo looked like tiny metal gods—like if they used to have gods whose domain was just a single small village, like that size of metal gods. The nice thing about making metal for KRS (as well as making it about Dungeons & Dragons), is that you sort of instantly throw out all of the genre's long, dull tradition of macho, guitar-as-phallus bullshit, and you can just dig what's actually a pretty fun, grooving form. (Your hangups may vary, of course.) When the band broke a string, the crowd threw up metal horns. And they volunteered help when Merithew flubbed the opening monologue for set closer "Dark Harbour/Green Mountain Airways/Illgagaard Forever": "Once, in a land of beauty and reverb and delay (ay-ay-ay)...that's a tongue twister...who wrote that shit?...are thoroughly prepared with chords and distortion..."
(Music played in between bands: Sonic Youth's "Chapel Hill"; Nirvana's "Come as You Are." Appropriate and/or weird, respectively.)
The Bangs were super catchy and fun, mining a well-worked vein of garage rock and still managing to make it pay off nicely, vocals ricocheting between bassist/singer Maggie Vail and guitarist/singer Sarah Utter. Utter broke a string and there was some debate about what Vail and their drummer should play while she changed it: "maybe play Blue Cheer or that Jimi Hendrix thing?" (another suggestion) "Okay, we haven't played that song in seven years, why can't we just play 'Southern Girls'?" Someone in the crowd shouted, "You can do it!" but they ended up playing "Southern Girls" anyway, and it was simple and sweet, just bass and drums and Vail's jumping vocals. They said nice words about the show's beneficiary, former KRSer Natalie Cox, who's battling cancer (Vail: "she's my best friend"), and about the show's overall feeling of community.* They ended with "Leave Her Behind" and "Dirty Knives," Utters vocals going gravelly and then giving out on the latter.
Somehow, in the ten years since I saw their queer dystopian punk rock opera The Transfused at the Capitol Theater in Olympia, I'd forgotten about the total, unabashed theatricality of The Need. Last night's performance provided a welcome reminder, though. The duo—Rachel Carns standing behind a drum kit, pounding floor toms and bass drum, wailing vibratto into her headset mic, delivering the vocal break through some pitch-shifting effects; Radio Sloan just slightly bent over her guitar with a stack of amps towering behind her—played "O Sally How's it Feel with a Fake Hand" flanked by a robed figure on (inaudible) Theremin and another on flute. Big cheers. "You guys are so much nicer to us than Seattle ever was, " Carns said. "Seattle was not nice to us." "We took over Seattle!" someone in the crowd shouted. "Yes we did," agreed Carns, then: "If there are any witches in the house, you might wanna prepare." And here was the real reminder of the band penchant for dramatic productions: for the next song (forgive me on song titles here, it's been a while, but it was, duh, the one about being a witch), the group was surrounded by all manner of slow-writhing extras in various costumes (one of those white masques with a long, thin nose; more robed figures), circling around the band and then slowly melting back into the stage. "Oh my god, thank you, witches," Carns said after the song. "Thank you, witches everywhere. We burned at the stake so we could have this fucking rock show."
*This show was at least as good for that vibe, for the old (for me nostalgic) ideal of community that Olympia punk always seemed to promise (whether or not it delivered, whether or not you were part of the town's ruling tribe), as it was for the music. Sometimes all that peripheral stuff is even more attractive than the music itself.