Break the Code

With all of the experimentation happening in modern music, there should be more experimentation with what happens when you watch bands live--especially when it takes so little to fuck with convention. There are some acts, such as Providence, Rhode Island's Lightning Bolt and San Francisco's Coachwhips, who refuse the standard setups (the last time the Coachwhips played Seattle, they played on Sit & Spin's washing machines), but for the most part, when you go to a show, the bands take to the stage like they always have, and perform in their prescribed order--especially at large venues.

Rocket from the Crypt openers A-Frames spiked the norm Saturday by playing their set in the middle of the Showbox floor while the crowd circled around them. The local post-punk trio, who will release their second record soon, are used to playing more cramped quarters locally, so they did their part to close the gap, and sounded great in the process. The lineup listed the Spits next--who eventually took the stage in nun habits and gave an entertaining performance of snotty punk--and some crowd-heckling--but they made way for an interlude from Seattle's Tyco Party, who played a nine-minute set of junky nu wave. The duo combines a Tyco toy keyboard player and a drummer, but their frontman, Gary, lived up to his reputation for stripping down to his bare (save for a big black drawing of a face) chest and thong underwear in a pretty funny show of low-rent theatrics.

The night before, another unconventional act, French Toast, took the stage at Zak's--although without the show of pasty white skin. This D.C. duo (made up of James Canty from Nation of Ulysses and Make-Up on keyboards/guitar and Jerry Busher on drums/bass) mixed post punk, math rock, and dub, shifting with versatility between the genres. Although the more traditional rock songs sounded kinda skimpy (especially with only two people playing them), the dub stuff was killer, especially with the effects rigged to Busher's kit. Headlining that night were Hint Hint, backed by Jay from Pretty Girls Make Graves as an occasional second drummer, which gave the beats an extra-heavy thud and worked well against the keyboards and guitar. Show openers Popular Shapes played their spastic punk so well it made me wish they'd release a full-length already.

Anyone craving a big old rock show got one on Wednesday at Graceland, where New Zealand's the Datsuns brought their Deep Purple-colored rawk. After local openers Stagger Lee strutted their Southern boogie/Rolling Stones jam (there's a summertime rock 'n' roll band for this city), and the Sights pulled off a mediocre-to-average set of poppy garage, the Datsuns put on a show straight off a fantasy vision of '70s arena rock. They had the big arm-windmill moves, the masturbatory guitar solos over the crowd, the long hair, the Guitar Player posturing--but most of all, they had the music to back it all up. As one friend noted, they're not doing anything new, they're just doing what's been done before really well. Live, they have the same solid classic rock aesthetic as the Hellacopters--a band that I'm convinced would be wildly popular now if they'd sat on their stuff a couple years--and the Datsuns got the crowd to chant, raise their fists, and clap along more than any other band I've seen lately.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, local boy DJ Kento brought graceful electronic music to Chop Suey on Tuesday when he opened for Nobukazu Takemura. By fusing the songs he played on the theremin (which is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful instruments to watch someone play--Kento's hand movements were as graceful as a dancer's) with laptop beats, he turned what can be a very limited performance (a DJ on a stage) into a more interesting, unusual set--complete with a theremin cover of the Beatles' "Across the Universe."

On a final note, I finally got around to really listening to Portland band Glass Candy's Troubleman Unlimited debut, Love Love Love, and I like it much better than their live shows. While on stage the band often places singer Ida No's flamboyant style over musical substance, Love sounds like a relic from late-'70s New York, where pretentious art punk flared and Debbie Harry was queen. This record is kohl-coated no wave with No's loud, quavering voice holding court over stylized, trashy melodies.