By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
The Soundhead/Sum of One/ A-Set/The Pop Narcotic/Only Me
Koo's Art Cafe
Sunday, April 2
After a month in which we spent 26 hours sucking up recycled airplane air ("Would you like a complete stranger's snot amoebas with your honey-roasted peanuts, sir?" "Mmmm, yes, please!"), rubbing foreign sweat onto our flesh trying to squeeze into packed South by Southwest clubs, and making out with cute Texans whom we met on the Net barely four days earlier (that's all the details you get—but he frenched well), it was inevitable: a sore throat spiraled downward into a nasty cold/cough pattern, leading to a sore, plugged-up right ear. Music critics with only half a sound system are no good, except when they're reviewing Bob Dylan shows, in which case it doesn't really matter. (We're only saying that to generate more inane hate mail—see this issue's Letters page.)
Sometimes, though, the bands we see are so atrocious that we wish we were deaf in both ears; other times, they're so great we wish we had new ears sprouting all over our chests, arms and legs—they can do that with lab mice now, y'know. So for one time only, we inaugurate a spiffy new ratings system based on hearing ability—because sometimes deafness is a blessing.
The first band, Only Me, knew their way around some good, gritty chords on their first few songs, but they didn't really advance the concept much into fields like "melody" and "stage presence." Very droney and spacy, peppered with lots of dark, gloomy feedback fuzz. The moody keyboard trickles were nice injections, but we figured they're capable of something more. Not a bad band, but maybe they'll improve. THE HEARING TEST: Our one good ear was all we needed, though someday we could see us using both.
The Pop Narcotic were great, sort of a cross between the frenzied hard-rock roar of the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs, the arty esoterica of the Minutemen and the less pretentious aspects of old Black Flag. Their manic front man was all over the room—the kid oughta market his own workout videos. They were also way into audience participation. Well, more like audience slavery, when their singer dragged a frightened-looking boy named Fernando into the band, handed him a tambourine, and told him, "Go!" Fernando looked like he really wanted to let loose and shake that thang wildly, but he also looked like he wanted to escape by jumping through the big plate-glass window behind the drummer. Their rock was explosive, the singer dude writhed around on the floor, and even though there were only about 20 people in the room, the band played like there were 49. The Pop Narcotic were slammin'. THE HEARING TEST: What big ears we wished we had!
Chicago trio A-Set weren't anything special, just lots of slow, rambling chords pockmarked with dreamy overtones. Their singer had a decent set of pipes, very deep and Peter Murphy-like, but they need a big dose of happy-happy (or at least need to make sure they never follow the Pop Narcotic again). THE HEARING TEST: Both drums closed. Both eyes, too—we fell asleep on the Koo's couch during their set.
Sum of One were pretty good, a poppy hardcore band that reminded us of Stavesacre in spots, with some cool, crunchy anthems and even an old shoegazer tune that wasn't too irritating. With our ear troubles, we couldn't understand a single lyric, but judging by the number of veins that popped out on the singer's neck, they seemed to be tackling far-reaching, passionate, worldly themes. They also covered the Wonderstuff and Bad Company, which we've never seen anyone attempt before. THE HEARING TEST: Both wide-open, except during the Bad Company tune.
Not sure what the Soundhead, an "experimental-space-drone-noise-psychedelic" South County trio (or four piece, if you count the guy working the fog machine), were up to. With their echo-effect-heavy vocals and the swirly, stomach-churning, multicolored Lava-lamp lights they projected onto themselves, it reminded us of our days hanging out at the Factory with Andy and Nico—or was that the Fillmore with Kesey and Owsley? Whatever. If we're supposed to trudge though so much refried psychedelia, we expect to at least get handed a bong at the door. But we respect them for trying to be different. For 1965. THE HEARING TEST: Melllting! They're mellllting our heeeaad!!!