NAKED RAYGUN at SUMMIT MUSIC HALL | 1/31/14 Everyone who got to see Naked Raygun at Riot Fest last year got to see a good set, but it wasn't near the caliber as this show. Jeff Pezzati was even more of an unconventionally charismatic and eccentric frontman than usual, prowling the stage like a praying mantis at times. And he sang with real power, conviction and musicality. When the band played jazzy art-punk song "Peacemaker," the crowd went crazy, even though the song has unusual and definitely not standard punk dynamics. Naked Raygun is definitely not following some kind of standard punk template.
When the band took the stage, it immediately went into a medley of songs, including "The Strip." What was immediately striking about the band was that its music, while definitely punk, had fully integrated ideas and sounds from early rock and roll, jazz and power pop into its oeuvre of songwriting. What that meant was that, yes, these guys played songs with some dynamic drive to them, but those songs also had passages or sections where there was some atmosphere -- perhaps mood is a better word in some cases -- where the emotions could hang in the air for moments before the energy came crashing back in.
"Hot Atomics," "Treason" and "Vanilla Blue," especially, combined the arty with the anthemic and the hard-edged yet fluid. Eric Spicer's way of playing a rhythm, with filigrees of lead over the top, was Wipers-esque in its sonic richness and ability to brighten a melancholy mood and warm that up into defiant energy when the moment comes for a song to go into direct motion.
The main set ended with "Home of the Brave." But so many people in the crowd were yelling out song titles, including "Knock Me Down," that the band came back on and Pezatti grinned and told us it was a country western song. After some joking noises in that direction, the group made a lot of people happy by playing the tune. Pierre Kezdy, who had joined in on bass five songs from the end of the main set, played the entire encore, and the smile on his face, even earlier when he was offstage looking to see where he could help out, indicated he knew it was a great show which ended with a lively rendition of "New Dreams."
Earlier in the evening, King Rat opened the show, and frontman Luke Schmaltz joked with people in the audience, and everyone in the band played like they were having a whole lot of fun and performing with conviction. Even when someone half-jokingly yelled for "Don't Fuck With The Fuck With," which Schmaltz pointed out that the band probably hadn't played for fifteen years, Anthony Delilli asked, "Does anyone know how to play that?" To which Mike Makkay said, "We sure don't." Overall, the band played with an easiness and passion thoughout the entire set, during which included a cover of the Effigies' "Strong Box" with Tim Gibb on vocals, and closing out strong with the band's eponymous song.
Reno Divorce, never less than good, had what seemed like an exceptional night, too. During soundcheck Brent Loveday teased a bit of "Owner of a Lonely Heart" on guitar, which suggested that there was going to be a lot of playfulness in the performance. These guys just keep getting better. The brightly melodic leads that Loveday brought to every song elevated the music, and Tye Battistella held down the rhythm guitar expertly in a way that made you really appreciate how he and Loveday work together with the rhythm section.
Overall, the outfit sounded like a great rock and roll band -- not purely punk, not countrified rock, not blues rock, but a compelling mélange of all of that. Throughout the set, guest vocalists came up to sing for three songs, including the closer, an imperfect but endearing cover of "Ace of Spades" by Motorhead.
Personal Bias: I first heard "Rocks of Sweden" by Naked Raygun on the Rat Music For Rat People series in the early '90s, and I've been a fan ever since. Random Detail: All the bands had some cool merch. By the Way: Reno Divorce has an excellent new album called Lover's Leap.
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