Seeing No Age at the Showbox last week, you got the sense that the band's context is incredibly important to what they do. No Age come from the much-loved and much-hyped scene built around L.A.'s grassroots, all-ages venue the Smell, and it's almost impossible to think or read about one of those things (the Smell, No Age) without the other. The album art for their debut, Weirdo Rippers, featured one photograph of the Smell with the band's name and album title painted on the building's face (it might still be there) and another that looks like a class photo of the current L.A. punk scene. There might not be any other band right now for whom a sense of place is so important. (At least, that's how it seems to someone who's never been to said place.)

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Upon first listening to Weirdo Rippers, I had a hard time hearing what all the buzz is about. There are some great moments, sure, but there's also a lot of lo-fi fuzzing around and pedal prog goofs. As Stranger music critic Brandon Ivers pointed out in his review of the album last year, the record flicks on and off like a light, from Day-Glo noise to pop punk, and it's sometimes jarring.

Live, though, the band's two-chord pop-punk hooks emerged, surfing, from the waves of noise. Atmospheric static swelled up and crested, propulsive melodies rode out and exhausted themselves, and then the cycle would start again with the next song. But even if the songs made more sense live, there was still something missing, something that doesn't translate so well from the Smell or the Punkin' House (where I once saw singer/drummer Dean Spunt's old band, Wives) or the old Artspace loft (where No Age played in Seattle a year or so ago to just a handful of kids) to the Showbox. No Age's dingy, lo-fi sound might kill in a basement, but sounds a little bizarre in a big, ornate old theater. The band's choruses are emotionally anthemic but sonically anemic; they need a crowd of kids singing along. This is a band that almost need to be down on the floor, bumping into the crowd, interacting physically as well as musically with the audience.

At some point, someone in the crowd must've shouted out something about the Smell, because Spunt replied, "Yeah, I smell. I smell big time," before speaking sincerely about the band's creative home: "The Smell is the nicest place in the world, actually. I'm not kidding."

Presumably, part of the Smell's charm is a wild and devoted hometown crowd. After the Seattle crowd's anemic response to another song and Spunt's asking, "You stoked or what?" Spunt sincerely whined, "C'monnnnn, come onnnnn," before launching into "Everybody's Down," a call to arms that aims to make No Age's scene universal with its chorus of "Everybody's down/Every soul in every town." As a looped drone played out from his pedals, guitarist Randy Randall hopped on top of his amps and clutched his guitar in one hand while Spunt stepped away from his kit to sing. When Spunt pounded back into his drums and Randall leaped down and into a guitar riff, maybe a half-dozen people in the middle of the crowd truly lost their shit. It was the high point of the set at the Showbox. At the Smell, I bet that moment looks like Armageddon.

Listening to that cobbled-together debut album again now (Weirdo Rippers was assembled from a series of vinyl EPs), after having seen the band live, its sometimes erratic ebb and flow feels more familiar and purposeful. If anything, the washed-out choruses, clipped drum fills, and fuzzy guitars suggest the buzzing energy of a basement show better on record than they do live in a giant theater. The droning, pedal-looped instrumental passages sound less like filler and more like the dramatic buildups they're meant to be when you imagine Randall perched on top of his amp or Spunt pressed into the mic above his drum kit, both about to snap into action.

No Age will release their first proper album, Nouns, on May 6 on Sub Pop.

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A little non-news on the Crocodile front: As has been widely reported, Groupee, the software company that purchased the club last month, has submitted an application for a liquor license. The application lists "Crocodile Cafe" as the current business name and "The Crocodile" as its new name. Contacted for a comment about Groupee's plans for the venue, its VP and chief operating officer, Lori Hope, replied, "Unfortunately, we cannot comment at this time." recommended

egrandy@thestranger.com

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