New Luck Toy
w/ Charming Snakes, DJ Sterling
Mon May 27
Graceland, $3.

As an ad for a parachute pants store pops up on my computer, I realize that the '80s nostalgia frenzy has officially gotten under my skin. Why must pop culture insist on getting sentimental in 20-year cycles? Looking backward is never particularly inspiring for those of us who prefer a little vigor and venom in our rock.

Still, the '80s-influenced tide is not all boring and retrogressive, especially on the local front. While the downside is garish nightclubs like Polly Esther's and irritating radio stations like 96.5 "The Point" (what kind of person genuinely misses Mr. Mister?), the upside is New Luck Toy, a brash young band that takes the strongest elements of hard-edged '80s new wave and forges them with the spontaneous, messy constructs of classic '70s punk rock. This cross-generational melding might not seem so fresh initially, but the band's brazenly chaotic delivery makes it much more than a conveniently marketable hybrid.

Cultivated by a steady input of New York punk (and a pinch of British goth), singer and occasional guitarist Stevil Dead's petulant, hiccupy vocals have a bobbing cadence recalling quality Thatcher-era frontmen such as the Buzzcocks' Pete Shelley and the Stranglers' Hugh Cornwell. Dead's longtime collaborator is drummer Kelli Pain (the pair moved here together from Texas), a confident, gutsy player with just the right sense of reckless abandon coursing through her nimble feet and fingers. Lead guitarist Ken Jarvey and bassist Steve Centari chaperon the group down their well-chosen, self-destructive path, and the end result sounds like a nasty brawl between Adam Ant's entourage and the Germs' fans--bloody and brutal, but compulsively catchy.

What's exciting about watching a band like New Luck Toy is somewhat contradictory: Although they're brandishing a tight arsenal of sharp songs, they clearly haven't gotten a clean shot at their musical potential yet. But that combination of muscular material and unfiltered exuberance is what makes good punk rock performances potentially great. They're scheduled to play a zillion shows over the next few months, so although you'll have ample opportunity to catch them, I suggest you do it now--before they fine-tune the chaos.

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