Live review from Underground Heavy #7:
2. Mongolian Rockets
3. Devil Style
4. The Man With No Name
5. My Bitchy Girlfriend
6. School of Hope
This is a band truly worthy of the epithet “heavy” because sonically, visually and tactilely, they are fucking heavy. Furthermore, they’re not a metal band, which puts them in a fairly emaciated and underexplored musical area among local bands. I’d like to address their description of themselves for a second, and say that this would’ve been clever 20 years ago. In a post-grunge world, “Anti-Macho, anti-Stadium, outcast, loners’ rock” seems somewhat overcooked and contrived, while the simpler “anti-mainstream rock” (which they also use) is pitched just right. Just sayin’.
But – that’s got nothing to do with the music – which is audaciously dissonant, deceptively unstructured, and has that wonderful quality of being right on the verge of chaos and implosion. They seem to have a tactic, if you will, of lulling you in with genuine riffs, and suddenly abandoning the riff itself while still stretching out the idea of the riff in weird and cool ways that would remind you of the word avant-garde. But, possibly my favourite thing about them is that they don’t succumb to the typical temptations and go into long extended jams filled with pretentious minimalism (or wanky solos). I subscribe to the line of thought that when a song is restricted to 3-5 minutes, the idea behind it crystallises in a way that hits you harder than the long-form version ever could. Plus, the fact that it’s a VEEEERY small percentage of musicians who actually have something to say and can express it in a long-ass song while keeping it interesting. It’s actually harder to express complex musical ideas in a short period of time, so I’ll (nearly) always value their rock-based expression. I’m one of those that think if Sister Ray were divided into 4 different songs, they would’ve been unimpeachable, rather than the sinusoidal trajectory its 24 minutes have in terms of effectiveness of feel (sorry Bob Quine). Heta Uma’s music, by contrast, is concise, abrasive, and powerful precisely because they have that hit-and-run quality – now that’s rock ‘n’ roll.
They’re somewhere between post-punk (No Wave specifically) and early-hardcore in their sound, and are exactly are the kind of band I imagine followed Friction, or Teenage Jesus and the Jerks to close out the night at CBGB’s (the former didn’t happen, I know, but a girl can dream…). Lots of weird-sounding chords and dissonant single-string guitar rants (‘cause they’re not really solos, are they?) that threaten to jump into orbit, but are bounded by the ocean-floor pressurised bass, and are then castigated for that attempt by the severe, rollicking and very Thomas Pridgen-like drums. There’s a constant near-violent tension that they create between the instruments, often added to by the vocals. Singer Kevin’s vocals sound like a Joplined-out version of Wendy O’Williams, and are nicely contrasted by bassist Sieon’s remarkably convincing screams (of pain?). The performances are full of falling about, lying on the floor, faux-amphetamined, GG Allin/James Chance-type stuff – awesome, and oddly infectious, to watch.
They had the best start of the night – apparently, the temperature in the storeroom was several degrees lower than out in the stage area, and while trying to play the opening song, they had to keep tuning and retuning before aborting the song entirely. Frustrating for them, obviously, but it really worked as a show ‘cause it was mighty funny to watch. There seems to be a central idea to all their riffs, and Mongolian Rockets has one very similar to The Man… – this one is a sort of self-flagellating flailing riff, followed by long periods of conveniently indescribable instrumental awesomeness. Devil Style was played with a real slide, for a change (they’re usually improvised with things like beer bottles). There was a pogo-vs-tango discussion before My Bitchy Girlfriend followed by the very Teenage Jesus-like fake-out-punky song. School of Hope was still fast, but had a tune reminiscent of old blues (like Big Bill Broonzy played by The Mars Volta). They finished off with an unfortunately sappy vocal bit to finish, but that can be excused (and I wouldn’t put it past them to have intended it so). Overall, they sound much like the Minutemen during the Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat phase – and I don’t get to make this comparison often, so that makes me very happy. An awesome set, made awesomer when you realise that they were basically battling their guitars for a lot of it.
– Shashwati Kala