They say trends always make a comeback. Whether or not “they” is the indecipherable force behind the return of things like cut-off jean shorts, or hypercolor t-shirts (don’t act like the latter won’t be hanging off the skeletal frames of every malnourished hipster six months from now) is to be decided, but if “they” got one thing right, it is the resurgence in an appreciation for that which gave birth to future generations of rock. I speak of the well-deserved praise of golden oldies and soulful pop that has been dripping into even the most volatile parts of modern independent music for the last few years.
In spite of the short attention spans, I am blessed to be part of a generation that has instant access to music traversing more decades than you can count on one hand. From the dawn of the girl groups, to the bandstand-hungry gents with matching suits and perfectly coiffed hair, to the beach-clad co-eds who wanted nothing more than a fun day in the summer sun, the sounds that our parents experienced as a brand new sensation are returning as influences in the most odd of places: the dingy basements and beer-soaked floors of venues around the country.
Kansas City newcomers Radkey began an impressive 40-minute set promptly at 8:30. The trio of teenage brothers Dee (guitar), Isaiah (bass), and Solomon Radke (drums) threw out an energetic set that jumped in influences from the most obvious of Misfits and Ramones, to the earliest days of a Mod-friendly The Who, and plenty of variety in between. Dee and Isaiah, each pulling harmonies from the deepest parts of the larynx, were rarely immobile for the duration, constantly bouncing to and fro to the rhythm provided by Solomon. Most songs were prefaced with a short introduction that charmingly aged the band (leading into “Little Man” with a dig at their grandfather, about whom the song was written), and the band closed out their set with covers of Faith No More and the Teen Titans theme song.
The Savage 7 played a raucous thirty-minute set of acerbic rebel rock n’ roll pulled from the pages of full-throttle bands like Zeke and prairie punks Cocknoose and Cretin 66. With a name lifted from a cult ’60s biker gang movie, the band’s wurlitzer-fueled rock was robust, though the existence of only six members must not go without mention. The crowd dispersed to the bar and the patio through most of the set, leaving only a few stragglers to take in a set far more deserving of a rowdy audience than what it was handed. Next time I plan on seeing the band, I will grab the first denim jacket I see, cut the sleeves off, and chug a beer. Respect.
TRMRS brought their washed-out beach pop to the stage at 10:20, madly thrashing about for forty minutes and giving the audience shiny garage gems covered in a layer of grime. At times psychedelic, even downright tribal in their rhythmic drone, the quartet would not be the last band of the evening to combine unrestrained influences of ’60s rock, pop, surf, and country. They and headliners The Growlers created the musical equivalent of drawing Sharpie pentagrams on the beat-up covers of dollar bin Eric Burdon and Roky Erickson records. By the end, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Stewart was a writhing pile of melted flesh on the stage, slumped to his knees as the band closed their set with a blister-inducing psych opus.
Upon southern California desert pop quartet The Growlers taking the stage with Stewart on bass, what existed of the crowd became an ocean of wobbling bodies and make-out parties. There may have been a child conceived while the band was on stage. Vocalist Brooks Nielson was drowning in the pale blue light offered by the Riot Room, swaying with his microphone in a single hand like a lounge singer, eyes fixated on an invisible object behind the crowd for most of the set. The band’s approach to the entirety of early rock and pop is worth noting, each song in its own right seething with the timelessness that takes one from being doomed to psych-pop compilation appearances, to having LPs that are required listening for a generation.
The Growlers and TRMRS, good as they are, will not be the first or last of such bands to bring older influences to the forefront of their sound. Surfer Blood, Wavves, Vivian Girls, Hunx and His Punx, Shannon and the Clams, Sonny and the Sunsets, and the dreadful Best Coast are but a few of the household names that have surfaced in recent years, and the selection beyond those is growing more and more vast by the day. Now, more than ever, people are digging further and deeper into the roots of what once made a hit, and pulling out the most base ingredients required to craft a song that, while certainly not possible of earning a gold record in this day and age, will have a staying power that outshines almost anything heard on the radio in 2012.
by Greg Stitt