In my humble opinion, anything more than three bands in one night's show is at least one band too many (even though I reserve the right to attend multiple shows in one evening and see as many bands as I want). Last night's punk-rock showcase at Terminal West featured four bands, but I honestly can't say which, if any, I would have cut from the lineup.
For instance, the openers were Amsterdam's zZz (pronounced "zzzzz"), not to be confused with Japan's all-female post-punk/no wave band ZZZ. Last night's zZz were a duo, just an organist and a drummer/vocalist. Fresh off a tour with Quintron & Miss Pussycat that ended Friday night in Mobile, Alabama, their version of punk leaned more to the psych-rock side, and Björn Ottenheim's baritone vocals gave the songs an almost goth edge. The audience was still pretty sparse for the openers, and one guy pretty much had the floor to himself for dancing.
Next up were Minneapolis' The Blind Shake, with one more musician than zZz for a total of three (drums and two guitars). The Blind Shake play pounding, high-energy, uber-punk, and about a dozen or so guys formed a mosh circle, running counter-clockwise in a cleared area of the floor slamming into each other and those on the perimeter of the clearing.
The third band of the evening was Austin's OBN IIIs, named for their singer and frontman Orville Bateman Neeley III. OBN is a wild man, bellowing out the vocals, striking macho rock-star poses, and menacing the front row of the audience, which is where I had managed to make it to at that point of the evening.
Pacing the edge of the stage, he would kick out his foot as if were going to kick a spectator in the head, although he never actually made contact or hurt anybody. He rubbed some people's heads and poured beer on another (after he had given him a full shot glass of liquor). Overall, it was pretty entertaining, and kept the audience engaged and alert - you had to keep an eye on this guy, because you never knew what he'd do next.
When he was on stage away from the crowd, OBN would swing his microphone stand around, or tangle himself up in the cord, or fall on the floor and continue singing laying down. He'd hump the monitors, grind the mic stand with his crotch, and generally act like a punk-rock maniac.
Given the intensity of the music and OBN's antics, the mosh circle got bigger and more intense, and at one point OBN jumped off stage and joined in, taking the associated shoves, punches, and headbutts in stride as he continued to sing. He had to have been in there a good, solid two minutes or more, and he took some serious hits without losing his cool.
At another point in the show, he disappeared behind an amp, and emerged a few seconds later with a Halloween wolf mask over his head. He sang masked for only a minute or so before tossing the mask into the mosh circle where the participants dove for it, elbowing each other out of the way for the souvenir. He ended the set by dropping his trousers, mooning the audience, and finished the song in his boxer shorts, waddling around the stage with his pants down around his ankles.
San Francisco's Thee Oh Sees are arguably one of the few bands who could have followed that. We last saw Thee Oh Sees at The Goat Farm, where I had managed to get a spot right at the stage before the surging, shoving, diving audience finally drove me away. I got to the security rail at the front of the stage again last night, and as Thee Oh Sees took the stage, frontman John Dwyer unpacked his guitar case and set up right in front of where I was standing
Before saying anything else, let me point out that Thee Oh Sees put on a terrific show and are one of the most exciting bands to see live touring right now. They played well over an hour and covered much of their latest album, Floating Coffin, but also included plenty of old favorites.
When the band started playing, the audience pressed forward and the mosh circle collapsed, but instead of moshing, the crowd would surge forward and those of us in the front would push back, all while crowd surfers were passed overhead. Many young men tried to displace me from my spot in front of Dwyer by aggressively attempting to cut in between me and the rail, but I hung on and defended my spot and lasted the entire set, at times against overwhelming forces I should add. But this was all a part of the fun, and I employed my patented Charles Barkley maneuver, bending over slightly and sticking my butt as far out as I could to take up as much space as possible so that when crushed, I had some room to give before pushing back.
I didn't mind the surging, the shoving, and the crunching so much, and knew that's what I was in for at an Oh Sees show when I got to the front of the stage. Taking pictures was a challenge though, as you never knew when you'd need your hands and arms free to block off an interloper.
But the real fun of being up front was to get to watch Dwyer up close. He's a hilarious performer, often making funny faces, sticking out his tongue, or rolling his eyes to match the funny voices he sometimes uses (check out his vocals at about the 2:55 mark on Block of Ice, below, from an October 27 gig in Brooklyn captured by NYC Taper). Sometimes, he reminds me at times of an Ed "Big Daddy" Roth cartoon character, or how the MAD Magazine of the 1960s might have parodied a garage rock band. It was wonderful to get to watch him perform, and I think that most of the audience missed it for all the pushing and shoving and diving going on.
In addition to Block of Ice, set highlights, and there were many, included Contraption/Soul Desert and The Dream from the Carrion Crawler/The Dream LP. Impressively, they played without a set list, even though the sequence of songs was very different from the set of just a few nights ago in New York, based on the NYC Taper archive. They closed their set with Minotaur, a slower song to chill the crowd out a little, although Dwyer worked his observation into the lyrics that "someone's still crowd surfing to a slow song."
Thee Oh Sees finished around 12:30, and the PA and house lights came on immediately after their set; no encore would be had that evening.
Overall, then, and as alluded to earlier, the set was a veritable showcase of different styles of modern punk rock, starting with zZz's psych-punk, followed by The Blind Shake's guitar punk, followed by OBN III's in-your-face punk, and capped off by Thee Oh Sees mutant psychedelic freak-folk punk.
Twenty-four hours later, my hearing has returned to near normal.