Wednesday was an exceptionally rotten New York weather day, even if your job doesn’t require traveling from rock club to rock club by sneaker. But still, the bands must play on! (I mean they all flew here already…)
Tall tales of Brooklyn sci-fi freaks, British gentlemen, Japanese punk lifers, and magical L.A. teens can be found below.
Brooklyn’s Future Punx didn’t really sound like future punks, but since their particular brand of retro hasn’t been heard from in a while, it was fresh all the same. Think late 70s trash-bag New Wave, obsessed with sci-fi paperbacks and at least disco bassline-curious. Or given the generation gap, maybe think of a Tumblr account centered on these interests. The grooves they got up to, laying live drums over a sequencer, were thick and wildly danceable. New single “I’m So Inspired” has a subtle Talking Heads influence, even. This vibe was attempted a lot more in the early to mid-00s, to varying degrees of success. The current version of Future Punx would have slid into the upper middle, at least. (I’d say they’re in range of the Japanese band Polysics, if that meant anything to anyone.)
Also, they looked absolutely perfect in the shitty closed circuit TV hanging above the Cake Shop bar.
London band Ultimate Painting were another act executing a familiar sound with better than average results. They played a very British mix of melancholy indie-pop and classic underground rock n’ roll. At times it was gentle, but not snoozy, sort of like a properly caffeinated Clientele. In noisier bits vocalist/guitarist James Hoare was allowed to indulge his Velvet Underground worship even more than he does his great other band Veronica Falls, which is a lot. They were exceedingly tuneful, and mostly very tasteful (despite indulging in some overlong jamming that never quite reached bliss). Bands like this never really go out of style, and almost never break through beyond a small, dedicated cult following. You could forget about them for a decade, but then be delighted by their inclusion in a NYC Popfest 2024 lineup. The definition of a pretty solid band.
In terms of energy, enthusiasm, and pure fun, they just couldn’t compete with Osaka, Japan, veterans Shonen Knife. Formed in the early 80s, and championed by legendarily tasteful gents like John Peel and Kurt Cobain, their silly Ramones-inspired pop-punk is, if anything, more relevant now that the mid-90s variety of the genre has been newly nostalgized by grown-up Hot Topic babies. The band paid off their Ramones debt early with a crowd-shout along version of “Blitzkrieg Bop.” (If you look close at this video, you can see me Tweeting-reporting through that like a real lame.) Newer songs, written about simple pleasures like ramen noodles or green tea ice cream were done in the style of 70s American hard rock. The head banging pleasures they brought are evidenced above. These songs were ridiculous, sure, but never smug or self-impressed. “Bear Up Bison” still totally slays.
Shonen Knife might be an intrinsically silly group, but there was a level of joy here that young bands in town looking to make their mark would do well to aspire towards.
Having flown too close to the sun, arrogantly assuming its battery might last forever, my phone decided to die right before L.A.’s Girlpool played at Baby’s All Right. Of course the one set I could get no evidence of would be the one set of the night I left thinking I’d seen future stars. Two normal teens playing on a smoke-filled stage, lit with twinkling lights, they looked sort of amazing as well. Picture it in your mind’s eye, perhaps? Or watch the above video from a few months back, the best approximation I could find of their live sound.
Last night, as on the video, it was striking how few elements make up a spare sound that somehow becomes legitimately big. Guitar, bass, simultaneous singing. The combination of those elements just rang out in the room. It wasn’t pretty, exactly, their harmonies do have a quality that’s a bit sour. But it’s warm and even sort of mysterious. By logical intuition, their stuff shouldn’t have this sort of alchemic cumulative effect. And yet….
As a bonus, here’s a silly video of the girls dancing at Baby’s after the show. In it, they seem somehow extra Californian.