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JAY REATARD’s show here last October at the First Unitarian Church absolutely blew me away. I hadn’t heard such a physical, in your face, intense performance since perhaps the two RADIO BIRDMAN shows I’ve seen in the last few years (especially the one last June at Otto Bar in Baltimore). It was simply incredible, with the force, velocity, intensity and volume I’d only heard from the very best hardcore bands that I’ve seen. He and his amazingly tight band must have played about 15 songs, if not more, in virtually the same number of minutes.
Having watched the DVD that accompanies the newly released Singles ‘06-’07, I felt like I’d seen him more times than I actually had, but nevertheless because of the great performance last time, I was really looking forward to this. Sure we’ll be watching him in Chicago in a few days at the Pitchfork Music Festival, but we bought the tickets anyway to get the full experience of a Jay Reatard show in a small club.
First, however, we had to endure two opening bands. “Endure” is definitely the operative word here. First up was THE TOUGH SHITS. With such an aggressive name, one would perhaps expect a teenage hardcore punk band. One would be wrong, however. When they got on stage, their appearance reminded me of a dime store version of AEROSMITH circa the mid ‘70s or perhaps GUNS ‘N ROSES circa 1987. The singer even did AXL ROSE’s snake dance during certain numbers and while they tried to exude the hard-rock cool of their sartorial inspirations, the music sounded like a slightly more hard rock version of mid ‘70s SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY & THE JUKES or perhaps MINK DEVILLE. I also kept thinking of MARAH and JESSE MALIN’s solo records. Although it’s not really my cup of tea most of the time, these aren’t bad reference points. However, none of their songs really stuck and call me shallow, but I couldn’t get over the discrepancy between the band’s look and their sound.
However, they were great compared to the next band. Thankfully we missed part of their set because we were eating downstairs in the bar/restaurant area of the club. However, when we got back upstairs, we were greeted to screeching, tuneful noise (and not the good kind, either) of song after song that wanted to be the same type of hard rock that The Tough Shits were copying (at least sartorially) but instead came off as 2nd rate knock-offs of THE CULT during their Electric period and nowhere near as well-written or catchy as well. One song shamelessly stole the riff from AC/DC’s “Rocker” (from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap) and yes, I realize that the song in question is a ‘50s rocker ala LITTLE RICHARD or JERRY LEE LEWIS, but their derivativeness still showed here. And at the risk of sounding shallow again, let’s talk about the band’s look. I realize that they’re probably a young band and still starting out, but they looked like they should be in 5 different bands. There was the singer, who looked like JUSTIN HAWKINS from THE DARKNESS, a guitarist who was sporting a sweater that screamed “indie-pop” and another guitarist who was sporting the ROBBIE ROBERTSON look (circa The Last Waltz), scarf and all. Add a non-descript looking drummer and a bassist who resembled DUFF MCKAGAN and the sartorial disharmony was frightening.
After a very short time, however, all of the above was forgotten. Jay Reatard, this time backed by only a bassist and a drummer (I’m certain that the bassist is the KING BUZZO (from THE MELVINS) look-a-like from THE BOSTON CHINKS but I’m not sure if the drummer is the same) as opposed to an additional guitarist the last time around, put on a set that was perhaps even better than what we witnessed back in October. It was like time and space just stopped in the 25 minutes (an epic length for Jay) that they played. I’ve gone on enough about how great he is both on record and especially live, where the songs are about three times as fast and infinitely louder and more intense. I could make a small complaint about how he didn’t sing all the lyrics to “See/Saw” (I’m specifically thinking of its great ending) or about how his voice seemed to get screechier and the lyrics less intelligible as the set went on, but that would be pointless. Our own JACK RABID has often talked about how seeing BAD BRAINS in their ‘79-’83 period was like “witnessing a monthly miracle”. Although I haven’t been privileged enough to see Jay quite as often, I feel the same way about him. Although I’ve seen later incarnation of both bands over the past 15 years, I never got to see Bad Brains or D.O.A. in their prime, but this must be similar. There’s just no one on the planet playing fast, aggressive rock and roll of any sort who’s as good as he is and he’s one of the very few musicians whose shows make me feel the same way I did as a kid, when it was all new and everything was alive with possibility and fun. I was a little disoriented after his set as he made us feel dizzy. This is how rock and roll should be.
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