Saturday, May 05, 2007

Live: Orange, Heart Attacks, Time Again, Necromantix

May 4, 2007, The Ottobar, Baltimore, Maryland

Last night, Ray and I caught the Necromantix show at the Ottobar. Since the Necromantix have a decided retro feel, I kind of expected that there would be some degree of nostalgia to the evening, but it wasn't all what I expected. As it turned out, with varying success, each band was a throwback to an era other than their own. The bands weren’t the only one’s getting into the past though. There was a pretty funny example of it in the audience as well. As I was watching the night second band, I noticed a girl a few people in front of me. She had X's on her hands, so she was under 21 for sure, but by the looks of her, I suspect she was probably closer to 18. The weird thing was this: She had the words, "Reagan sucks" painted on the back of her jacket. Reagan? I wonder if I should have clued her in that Reagan isn't president anymore. Actually, he hasn't been president since she was no more than two. It's the worst example I think I've ever seen of living in someone else's past. Guess, what, George W. Bush is president now and he sucks too! Why don't you pick on your own president? There's no protest in "Reagan sucks" anymore. I sure hope she isn’t planning on attending the Rock Against Reagan festival this year! So, you get the picture. That was the kind of night it was.

The opener was a band called Orange. They were a throwback to the 90s. There was nothing wrong with them other than the fact that they're like a second generation copy of the Clash and Buzzcocks via Rancid and Green Day. It'd be one thing if they reached all the way back to those roots, but instead, they merely copied the watered down punk of the 90s. Each generation away from the original loses a little soul is lost when rehashing the past. Orange doesn't have the soul of Rancid or Green Day who don't have the soul of the Clash or Buzzcocks. I'm not saying that new bands don't have soul, just those that reinvent the wheel. The problem with Orange isn't that they were bad, just that they weren't special. I saw the drummer after the show and he had a Frank Zappa shirt on. Maybe Orange should spend some time listening to Zappa to infuse a little creativity into their music. As it stands, they're wholly unoriginal. Their CD was $5. I passed.

Next up was the New York Dolls, I mean the Heart Attacks. They were a throwback to the 70s. These guys looked like the Dolls, they sounded like the Dolls, they almost were the Dolls. Unlike Orange, they were a first generation copy and they did it with enthusiasm. I've seen a lot of bands try to convey energy on the Ottobar's small stage and struggle to keep from running into each other. The Heart Attacks didn't bother with that struggle. They were all over the place with wild abandon. Singer Chase Noles did tumbles across the tiny stage and jumped from the balcony into the crowd. Guitarist Tuk also jumped into the crowd while playing the final song of the set. These guys might not have been the most original band, but they played with a lot of energy. Besides, they're a better New York Dolls than the New York Dolls are these days.

Time Again came on next. This time it was a throwback to the 80s. A first generation copy of 80s hardcore (largely DC-style in my opinion), they also mixed things up with a couple of slower melodic songs that made them a bit more multi-dimensional. As exciting as the Heart Attacks were, Time Again made them look like they were standing still. They had that rare gift of truly engaging the audience and almost the entire lower floor of the Ottobar was a big pit, swirling in an old school circle. It was good to watch (even 20 years ago, I was never one to be in the pit), because it was kids as a community, looking out for each other and just having fun. Time Again was simply a solid hardcore band, but they had that intangible that made them one with the audience and produced a better show than any band can put on alone. I'm not a big fan of encores, because they're almost never spontaneous, but a band that isn't headlining doesn't plan an encore, because they never get to do one. Time Again had created such a good vibe that the crowd called for it and they obliged! The spontaneity of the whole thing made it one of the best encores I've ever seen. After the show, I only had $7 cash left after admission and parking, but guitarist Elijah Reyes sold me the full-length for what I had in my pocket even thought they were charging $10. How punk is that? As Ray and I were walking out to the car, drummer Ryan Purucker told us that they would be back in a few months with the Casualties. I'm definitely gonna try to be there!

That brings us to band we went to see, the Necromantix. Of course, they were a throwback to the 50s, but that's their shtick. They're not just a revival though; they take rockabilly, mix it up with some old B horror movies and a little punk rock and turn it into their own thing. They're the cream of the psychobilly crop and I expected a great show. I was even more excited after Time Again's set, because a pretty high bar was set for the night's performances, so the Necromantix couldn't just go through the motions. Well, they didn't, but they didn't outplay Time Again either. The Necromantix had two things against them from the start. First, the mix was terrible. Half the time, I couldn't hear the guitar and the other half, it sounded too fuzzy, more like Blue Cheer than Gene Vincent. On top of that, they did a few things that separated them from the crowd. No one was allowed on stage. The few people that did get up were quickly removed by either Ottobar staff or the Necromantix manager. When the manager wasn't keeping fans from participating, he was busy pointing out people with video cameras in the audience with a flashlight. What does it hurt them for someone to tape the show? Is that gonna cut into the sales of their smash hit live DVD or something? That’s commercial rock behavior. Do they think they're Metallica? All of those shenanigans left a bad taste in my mouth even though they proved to be pretty amazing musicians. Bassist Kim Nekroman is such a dynamic player that his coffin-shaped bass is a minor detail. At one point, he was using his foot instead of his fret hand. He was all over the place, leaning into the crowd and putting on a generally exciting show. Drummer Andy DeMize had the touch of a jazz drummer and played with effortless energy. Unfortunately the technical problems made guitarist Tröy Deströy difficult to hear. He had a subdued stage presence, sitting down when the others soloed, but conveyed the whole rockabilly image very well. When I could hear him, it was clear that he had the chops even if the mix was screwing it up. The Necromantix really did play a fine set, but they seemed so distanced from the audience after Time Again that I just didn't find them engaging. To further distance themselves from all things right with a punk rock show, their merch was on the pricey side. CDs were a reasonable $10, but shirts and LPs were $15, they had a bandana for $10(!) and belt buckle for $25. I know merch is where they make their money, but I still found them to be a bit high.

So, this night of nostalgia had some surprises (Time Again and to lesser extent the Heart Attacks), a disappointment (Necromantix) and a small dose of mediocrity (Orange). It's a shame they didn't have a garage band on the bill to cover the 60s. Then it would have been the history of rock n roll in one night in the tiny, little Ottobar. All in all, it was well worth the $12 I paid to get in. Seriously, I would pay $12 to see Time Again alone, so everything else was a bonus.

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11:25 AM  

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