Small Shows

Who knew that modern dance could cross over into the punk/indie rock realm so smoothly? Last week Janet Pants Dans Theeatre, a Los Angeles production sized down to two people for this show, entertained a sadly underwhelming turnout at CoCA (probably in part due to the fact that modern dance seems like a love-it-or-leave-it kind of endeavor for most of us clueless to its merits). Their act was both visually and aurally entertaining, as the sole dancer's movements were held so precisely it was like she was being captured in a strobe light, her athletic body arching into poses on continuous freeze-frame. Her accompanying musician played electric guitar to a series of songs that wavered between sounding like early PJ Harvey and Sonic Youth, with some dark, Bret Easton Ellis-style spoken-word fragments coming out in between. Opening for Janet Pants were local boys the Dead Science, who poured out a delicate blend of whispered vocals with standup bass, electric guitar, and, in places, violin, casting a somber, earnest mood with music that swelled with indie rock and jazz leanings.

Another local band that crosses the genre categories, Wormwood, opened up a killer show at Chop Suey last week. The band uses two drummers, keyboards, guitar, bass, and lots of extra sound effects to meld very tribal-sounding metal with gothic industrial instrumentation. Even with the multiple vocal styles (that varied from wind tunnel/demon squalls to more comprehensible aggression), the band's overall effect was trancelike, holding you under a spell of what one friend rightly described as Neurosis-like magic. The band that really left me spellbound that night, though, was 400 Blows, who helped me understand why the West Coast has formed such a love affair for their skate-punk-attitude-meets-metal presentation. The three-piece (drummer, guitar, vocals) was easily one of the sexiest-sounding indie metal acts I've stumbled onto in a while, with frontman Skot mockingly berating the audience for not being as rich as 400 Blows, who, he reminded us repeatedly, hail from Beverly Hills and would be going back home to hang out in their saunas. He was saying all of this dressed in his signature black gloves, reflective sunglasses, and military uniform, yelling in song with a cynical charisma about how the ugly are so beautiful.

I finally caught Pyramids last Thursday, when the Zak's crowd moved to the Lobo Saloon (due to booker Brian Foss shifting some upcoming shows away from his old haunt) for one of the few A-Frames shows of the summer (frontman Erin Sullivan has been in New York). Although I instantly missed Zak's outdoor patio (the Lobo's side porch can get a little crowded), the Eastlake bar still has a lot of character as a show venue (albeit a cramped one) that stocks a lot of great local punk songs on its jukebox. Pyramids (featuring Craig Chambers, the guitarist from the Lights, and drummer Matthew from the Intelligence) came together in perfect post-punk harmony, with Matthew's high, scratchy vocals sounding at times like Jack White, although musically Pyramids' sound is an amalgamation of its members' other similar-sounding acts. I was definitely impressed with the band, especially when Sullivan jumped in and played bass with a violin bow for the final song, producing a very low-end rumble that complemented the band's music well.

It seems like all the good Detroit rock bands from the last two decades have, at one time or another, had members of some other preeminent acts playing in them, and the Witches are no exception to that rule, having rotated Jim Diamond through their lineup, as well as members of the Sights and the Wildbunch (which later became Electric Six, and who themselves have dropped/replaced three members since their last show here a couple months ago, and who Witch guitarist Johnny Na$hinal now does double duty playing with). All this makes for a complicated musical family tree that's continually evolving the Witches' sound. Their older stuff is heavy on the psychedelics, with just enough effects on echo/delay to make you think you're hearing double underneath a backbone of woozy, British Invasion-meets-Nuggets garage. The new CD is more poppy--and, unfortunately, a little less interesting then their last--but hopefully they'll still pull together a good show when they play the Crocodile this Friday, July 11, with Electric Six and our own Midnight Thunder Express.

jennifer@thestranger.com