Bombast in Seattle, 2001
Thurs Nov 29 at the Crocodile.
The members of Weird Science, last Thursday's opener, were nervous. The quintet was visibly tense on stage: Technical problems led to mild but pointed bickering between bandmates, and, ultimately, to man-on-instrument violence. The players were also very drunk, no doubt a factor in the evening's anxious shenanigans, though punk-rock bathos can happily be blamed as well.
Indeed, this Weird Science was some fun, funny stuff. The band's wiry, muscular sound had a new-wave feel (compliments of bracing keyboards), but Weird Science was definitely all punk rock, recalling New York Dolls, the Ramones, and even Dead Kennedys. At the fore was Ian Barnett's keyboard-playing, but the most exciting part about Weird Science was Trent Coahran's scrappy, reverb-soaked but herky-jerk guitar phrasing, which reminded me of Gang of Four's Andy Gill a great deal. But he was all over the map. There were even moments in Coahran's performance when all I could think of was Chuck Berry by way of comparison, and I loved that.
It's fun and sort of disarming to be brought from a late-'70s art-punk feel into a soulful, '50s-style R&B/rockabilly guitar mood in a matter of minutes, and, if Coahran is not one of the city's most talented guitar players, he is at least among the coolest, both in sound and style. The rhythm section (Chris Hernandez on drums and Aaron Ersman on bass) was all Ramones--very straightforward punk, a solid backbone, with no missteps or audible shortcomings along the way.
Which leads us to the frontman, who always (be it man or woman) defines any band. If Derek Shepherd defines Weird Science, then Weird Science exists in a place where Iggy Pop meets Jello Biafra. Shepherd was tense and sort of serious like Biafra (though not political), and at times his voice was even reminiscent of the former Dead Kennedys frontman, particularly on the band's final song, a near dead ringer for the Kennedys' "California Über Alles." In attitude, however, Shepherd was clearly excited about the idea of being a full-on punk-rock Stooge, which is always fun.
Shepherd seemed to want to tear shit up--to pull the cottony stuffing out of rock and roll and find real blood. His guitar kept shorting out and going out of tune, and, frustrated, he violently threw it against the floor, jumping into the audience, which merely backed up to clear space (very Seattle 2001), unmoved but attentive. (I felt a little embarrassed in that moment. Not so much for Shepherd, but for rock and roll.)
And, as Shepherd and his band continued to wail through a good set, I was thinking that there's very little room for real punk rock in Seattle today. The audience seemed stymied by the bombast. As the show came to an end, for example, Shepherd took his shirt off and began smashing Budweiser bottles against the stage. He even cut up his chest with a piece of one, which looked like it really hurt. The audience backed away, having no interest in being pegged by flying shards of glass. The set came to an end, and I was laughing out loud, partly for seeing someone perform such a goofy, exhibitionistic act, and partly because everyone in the crowd seemed bored by this precedented act of rebellion.
I really liked this band a lot, but I have to say that the saddest thing I've seen in some time was Shepherd, in a shirt soaked with his own blood, sweeping up his tantrum's fallout with a little broom.