A Rivers Runs Through It

AM RADIO
CHAIN REACTION, ANAHEIM
SUNDAY, JAN. 26
So, mixed in among the unsolicited CD-ROMs of bands doing Pennywise-by-numbers punk and the misspelled press releases that we usually get (thanks, Fairview!) was something a little unusual: a letter from that Brian-Wilson-for-the-Virgin-Megastore-Set (and Virgin-Period-Set, come to think of it), Mr. Rivers Cuomo, whom you may remember from leg surgery, lots of Internet bootlegs, and six years of creative touch-and-gos with Weezer. And Rivers is like, "Hey, dudes, AM Radio—I personally urge you to experience the fury for yourself" or something, which was weird enough for us to fall for it. How often do well-known rock weirdos send letters to newspapers touting bands they manage? Our egos thank you—and so do our eBay accounts!

Anyway: AM Radio. They've got a pedigree and a posse, both of which involve a lot of geeks: singer Kevin Ridel got his own spot in our little sister's CD changer with Ridel High, a mid-'90s pop-fuzz band forever destined to be a footnote to your senior year of high school; not surprisingly, every kid singing along to AM Radio looked like they were just a few months away from Robert Frost references in someone's valedictory speech. That's the thing about this kind of reluctantly likable dork pop: the bands might keep getting older, but the girls stay the same—can we start background checks when someone buys a bunch of ironic thrift store T-shirts and a Marshall half-stack?

Anyway, AM Radio does that in-the-garage ménage of unironic hair-metal appreciation (which makes us long for the days when real burnouts spent hours in detention carefully carving "SLAYER" into their forearms with an X-acto blade), college-girl alt.-nostalgia (Pixies still rule, if used correctly) and the eponymous AM radio pop, of which, BTO might remind us, we ain't seen nothin' yet. Slot-and-tab it all together, and you get Weezer-by-proxy, which is fine in the universal scheme of things because Weezer is trying to turn back into a hair-metal band or BTO and someone has to make songs for middle-school mix tapes or else the already-teetering national nerd birthrate is going to fall off the cliff into zero. Perhaps Rivers feels something paternal as he watches Kevin and Co. glad-handing onstage, winking at the same Buddy Holly-isms that made him into the socially dysfunctional pop savant he is today—perhaps soon he'll worry about something a bit Oedipal, like we did when AM Radio played their last song. The chorus was pure blue album; good thing they decided to wedge a dubiously unrehearsed jam in the middle, just to shake off the sheen a little bit. Their drummer is as dead-steady as water torture (that's a compliment; he could session-work with Neu!), a necessary and subtle antidote to Kevin Ridel's cheerful church-camp-counselor charisma: he has a decent voice, but we bet if you sat next to him on a long bus trip, he would never fucking shut up.

A lot of bands swerve away from sucking just before they hit the guardrail; AM Radio can even pop a wheelie on the way out. If you like Weezer, you already like this band. You're probably stressing about that big math test first period, and we've got a letter from Rivers Cuomo that we'll let go CHEAP. (Chris Ziegler)

NAPALM DEATH/DARK TRANQUILITY/STRAPPING YOUNG LAD/BERZERKER
GALAXY CONCERT THEATRE
THURSDAY, JAN. 23
On an evening that should have brought excitement, I sat through the opening bands and read instead, looking up on occasion, hoping to find anyone onstage not imitating a barbarian from a bad movie. Berzerker were tuneless, superloud and wore Halloween masks. Strapping Young Lad were scary, hairy and frighteningly dim, with well-timed between-movement screams for maximum effect. The boredom intensified as Dark Tranquility's singer struck a pose, then offered an open hand to the crowd as though he had grapes or somebody's keys in it. But when grindcore mavens Napalm Death finally arrived, nothing else seemed to matter. For one thing, all the other bands on the bill borrowed chunks of their sound—the overwhelming distortion, the penis-in-a-blender shrieking, the speed that practically blow-dries your hair. Napalm are known as "the fastest band in the world," but they're also one of the most powerful concert experiences to ever come from anyone using guitars, bass, drums and vocals—Hiroshima must've sounded something like it. They don't sing about the crap you'd find on albums by their contemporaries, though, none of that Cannibal Corpse blood-and-guts horror-shock business. Instead, they're more personal and political (they covered the Dead Kennedys' "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" this night), and they write about imperialism, abortion rights and relationships, with lyrics that might offend some of the crowd if they could make out what lead screecher Barney Greenway was bellowing over the band's sonic earthquake. Looking like a cast member of Full Metal Jacket on crack, Greenway's a passionate front man whose midsong references to "that twat" George W. Bush became the theme of their set. Barney ended the show by reminding us to just say no to war. A group called Nile were due up next, but I had to split—too much reading in darkened clubs just isn't good for the eyes. (Jason Thornberry)

 
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