courtesy of No Age.
While most of DC’s indie-music listeners were reliving past glories watching Superchunk over at 9:30 Club on Friday night, a decent-sized and enthusiastic crowd were dancing the night away to the two of indie-rock’s new breed: junk-techno technicians Holy Fuck and noise-pop purveyors No Age. This show was one of the more interesting stylistic pairings in recent memory with both bands offering radically different sounds while occupying the same altitude of on-the-rise status.
Both Holy Fuck and No Age are touring in support of their third albums, which technically makes them both indie upper class-men, but their noise aesthetic and DIY approach to everything has possibly held them back from tapping the meteoric-rise success model that is being employed by their more pop-oriented peers. In other words, No Age and Holy Fuck are relying less on internet buzz and more on old fashioned word-of-mouth to garner a fan base. Something that No Age should be receiving in spades if they continue to perform at the level they did on Friday night.
First a quick note about the opening act, Trophy Wife. This two-woman duo from Philadelphia (by way of DC, apparently) featured an excellent guitar/drum attack reminiscent of No Age and shared riot grrrl vocals. Trophy Wife are one of the better opening acts that I have seen this year. Their music had a rhythmic noise-punk appeal and their dual vocals provided a Kathleen Hanna-like combo of saccharine sarcasm and pissed-off cave-girl roars. They presented most of their set in two-song chunks that were linked thematically by an introduction or just because they sounded good together. The stage banter could have been minimized a bit, but otherwise Trophy Wife set the mood for the evening’s kick-ass good time.
I was very excited to see Holy Fuck on Friday night. Their albums are spectacular, their trash-found instrument DIY approach to dance music mightily intrigues me, and the fact that I missed their show in DC earlier this year all combined to have me pleased as peach that they were a relatively late add to the No Age bill at the Black Cat. Playing to a two-thirds-full club, Holy Fuck ripped through a lean set of tunes keeping the crowd interaction and time-wasting to a minimum to provide the most music to the crowd as they could in their opening act time-slot. Laying down a funky mix of challenging noise-jams and crowd-pleasing dance tunes the band provided a nice cross-section of their diverse style range before completely giving into the urge to party.
I found the first half of their set infinitely more interesting than the second half. Watching the band of four dancing the edge between experimental and dance-music was fascinating. After a while though they decided to jump off the cliff completely by diving into a total funk/techno dance party. This portion of the set featured jams that were inspired by their album tracks (especially their album “Latin”) but didn’t quite sound like them either. Dancing to these live variations of their album tracks kept me engaged during the second half of the set. I’m not going to say I didn’t enjoy the direction their set took, but I do feel it became less interesting as it progressed.
Holy Fuck are composed of a live drummer, a live bass-player, and then two noise/electro composers each working a table-top full of gadgets, keyboards, and gizmos. The most interesting element in their arsenal was a mysterious ribbon of some sort that the one member kept pulling on. If anyone knows what the ribbon was for, or doing, by all means explain in the comments below. The ribbon tugging was either an ingenious music making device, or something going horribly wrong on stage; it really was impossible to tell from within the crowd, but that is part of the beauty of watching noise music performed. In my opinion, if you don’t ask yourself at least once during a noise set “how the heck are they making that sound” or “what the is that thing” then it is probably not reaching its full potential. At least in the first half of their set Holy Fuck had me scratching my head in noise-wonder a couple of times, so on that front they were definitely a success.
What can I say about No Age? Ever since their debut, I have been trying to spread the word about them by playing their music at my DJ nights. In my opinion this drum and guitar duo are one of the most exciting bands of the 00’s. In a sense they are the spirit of Husker Du reincarnated in a new body and creating an entirely new catalog of brilliant noise-rock for a new generation of music fans. Some music is like Shakespeare; destined to be retooled, reformed, and retold in cycles for the remainder of human existence. No Age are to Husker Du what Orson Welles was to the Bard.* Doing a damn fine job of making their own dazzling original music while evoking the essential nature of their stylistic predecessor, No Age delivered on every level with their Friday night set. I can’t believe how long it has taken me to finally see a band that I have been worshipping from their inception, nor can I believe just how perfectly their set matched my high expectations.
Not having heard No Age’s latest album, I have read all over the internet about it being a ‘cleaner,’ more ‘pop-oriented’ effort. So going into my first No Age show I was quietly hoping that the set would be back-catalog heavy with the songs that made me love them instead of some radical style shift showcase. Looking back on the concert and some of those online record reviews, I have no idea what those other writers were talking about and I can’t believe I was ever worried. No Age played a set that featured just about all of “Nouns”, a ton of their new songs, and even some “Weirdo Rippers”; the one observation I took away from it was that regardless of what is going on in the background, No Age is still all about a monolithic layer of fuzz coating everything they do.
Bumping their stage band up to a trio, No Age now feature a somewhat spectral member who works a table of electronics that supplements the shimmering curtain of sound pumped out by Randy Randall’s guitar. If anything, No Age might be noisier now than ever. Dean Allen Spunt anchors that noise with his incredible punk-rock drumming and reverb-affected vocals. Between Spunt’s drum lines and Randall’s occasional guitar-hero solos, the crowd were whipped into a pogo-frenzy in the front and dance hysterics in the back.
During their set, Spunt mentioned the huge influence DC’s punk scene had and still has on No Age’s music. He also name-dropped The Warehouse Next Door and asked if anyone remembered it. I shouted out that I did along with a smattering of other fans. I can’t believe I could have seen them play there and missed it! For their encore, No Age played Black Flag’s “Six Pack” and other punk classics after turning a microphone over to the crowd to sing the words. Eventually Randall even turned his guitar over to the crowd, allowing them to torture it inside the dance-pit. It was a noisy, punk rock mess and one of the most fun encores I have seen in a long time.
I can not think of a single negative or critical thing to say about No Age’s set. If anything, the new songs performed indicate that No Age are becoming even more powerful as a band. Spunt’s dead-pan vocal delivery featured a new-found range on the new songs that lent some actual emotion to the proceedings. Emotion is the one major area where Husker Du still has No Age beat, so it is nice to see Spunt putting his heart on his sleeve with some of the new songs to close the gap. For the most part I was in heaven during their entire set. When they were not evoking Husker Du, No Age offered shades of My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” injected with classic SST hardcore energy. Watching and listening to No Age cherry-pick, consume, and reconfigure their influences to bang out killer new music was a spectacular thing to witness and its appeal was impossible to resist.
* No Age even played as Husker Du once, backing Bob Mould at All Tomorrow’s Parties 2009