Miracleman -- the duo comprised of Chris Westin and Sara Century -- with its bedraggled drum kit, keyboards, a tape player with samples and an acoustic guitar, set up on the floor in front of the stage. You'd be excused for thinking the band was going to be one of those eccentric Americana acts, except that neither Westin or Century went for that sort of look. Instead, the pair offered a fractured, often atonal sound pushed along by an emotional savagery and eruptive exuberance that nearly made the music tip over into shambles.
Miracleman's cover of Sleater-Kinney's "Don't Think You Wanna" took the original and stretched it out into a slightly different shape that captured the spirit of the original. On the Gun Club's "Sex Beat," though, the reworking of the song was the equivalent of all the King's horses and all the King's men trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Except that, against all odds, it worked. The final two songs of the band's set included keyboards, with the first sounding like a song by The Residents from The Commercial Album, and the last like a jingle for a better way of life, rather than some useless product you don't need.
Bury My Bones, up next, is the kind of band that a lot of people like for the wrong reasons. A part of that being that a lot of people probably have only a vague clue about the music being referenced in the soundscaping Diana Sperstad creates with her guitar. Yes, her stuff is expansive and ethereal, often with electrifying guitar sounds and melodies.
But a lot of people see this petite, cute girl who can actually play and this blows minds. Yes, it happens -- a lot of women can really play, too. Where Sperstad deserves the most credit, though, is in her ability to time the guitar loops she creates, layering a lead over a rhythm line in a way that creates a much larger sound with solid songcraft and technical proficiency, which is much more difficult to do.
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Along with drummer Fez Garcia, Sperstad was able to create great dynamic tension balanced against a heartbreaking melancholy that perfectly expressed a yearning loneliness. Sperstad and Garcia closed their set with a surprisingly spot on cover of "Behind The Wall of Sleep," sans bass and Ozzy's inimitably robust vocals.
Fez Garcia didn't have to take his drums off stage because he also plays for Night of Joy. Backbeat's own Bree Davies and Valerie Franz set up to his left. Without much preamble, Night of Joy opened the set with "Cool Runnings." Garcia's drumming was only divergent from his performance with Bury My Bones in that he excels at matching his percussion style to the mood and the texture of the music. Night of Joy's generally more aggressive music had Garcia playing to break his sticks.
Franz faced partly away from the audience so she could see both Garcia and Davies play but this didn't stop her from doing her signature back and forth dance that is part skipping and part running in place. Her guitar style sounds like she had learned some of the fractured, slashing, erratic yet logical technique from Andy Gill and the forceful staccato backed with full riffs from Greg Ginn, but Franz takes those angular styles and gives them a more liberated flow that makes the music swing.
For her part, Davies laid down powerful bass lines that framed Franz's spiky melodies and smoky vocals. Especially during "John Candy." Is this band post-punk? Oh sure, but one as much informed by music of the alternative era as much as by Black Flag and the Minutemen.
Thee Goochi Boiz probably didn't try to look like the Ramones and ultimately don't, but the band's rambunctious energy and penchant for '60s pop music and garage rock immediately gave that impression. Unlike a lot of bands that have tried to fully embrace the Phil Spector Wall-of-Noise ideal with sunny sounds, these guys didn't bother trying to smooth things over. This performance was as raw a rock and roll display as you're likely to see with a band that obeys some modicum of conventional song structure.
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If anything, Thee Goochi Boiz were reminiscent of some of those bands on the Siltbreeze imprint, like Eat Skull or Times New Viking, that play with a visceral exuberance while maintaining incredibly catchy melodies and danceable rhythms. Maybe this band's songs weren't life changing, but its performance was certainly life-affirming, and more bands could learn to do a little more of that.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I was a fan of Night of Joy long before Bree Davies started writing for Backbeat. Random Detail: There are some incredible fliers for rock shows at local venues from the past twenty-five years plus under the clear plastic layer that makes up the top of the bar. By the Way: Eddie Maestas of Native Daughters was spinning records before the show proper.