How to Blow a Fuse

The Intelligista get out into the light

A.J. calls Nick the "reluctant leader"; you'd take him up a peg to brigadier general. James Brown held that mic in an iron fist; from the way the Intelligista intently watches Nick onstage, you're sure he demands the same martial discipline. There are probably 17- and 19-year-olds with flashier musicianship in OC; there can't possibly be any more cohesive.

The Intelligista are very ambitious about their musical ability, but more effectively, they know how to fit themselves together. "It's minimalism to me," Nick says. "We know our roles. It gets the point across easier."

Reflexively—almost accidentally—you follow-up: So what is the point of the Intelligista?

"It's that we're young, and in youth, we're filled with passion or visceral emotions . . . like . . . it's primal," he says slowly, a little startled. "We try to get how we feel into the song. The words don't matter. Maybe that's because we practice without mics. The music is more important than the words. I don't know if I can describe it without being stupid."

So you watch them when they play. The first three songs drip out a little lukewarm—technical difficulties, maybe stage jitters for fill-in drummer Pablo Estrada, covering for college-boy A.J. But at "Theme From the Intelligista," an overdriven Memphis-style instrumental, they break in. It's like a different band just crashed through the bar ceiling.

Next song: "Is That Clear?" Nick's breathless, slit-eyed, red-faced, slamming down to his knees, Rickenbacker racked close to his chest, stretching high notes till they snap. Kyle and Kevin are tipping into the barstools, clattering tambourines into the crowd. Pablo keeps his eyes on his hi-hat—first show for the new guy. He's the only quiet spot; if A.J. was there, he'd have his foot through something already.

You can't help but feel—in a nostalgic sort of way—a little old. The Intelligista use their ages as they should, which is to say, as raw atomic fuel, and when they're teenage-awkward, as they are now, it's only because they're so unadulterated—seeing someone really freak out is a little uncomfortable when you're used to the warmed-over twentysomething simulation.

They finish with mussed hair and crooked glasses. The room should smell like smoke. It's over fast and anti-climactically: they play a loosey-goosey new song after the bass amp belly-ups. People clap. The bartender asks if you can book them at his bar again. You pass the Perrier.

"I was thinking about what you asked me in the middle of the set," Nick says later, totally composed again, carefully toting guitar cases out to the minivan. "About the point of the Intelligista. I decided it's aggression and frustration."

You were thinking about that during the middle of the set? you ask.

"Yep," says Nick.

"This is for A.J. Polizzi!" shouts Nick, dangling the Perrier out the passenger window. We're going at least 80 down the last narrow turn on the 101, the exit that slides you back toward Orange County; the freeway slipstream is cutting through the busted window so fiercely that Nick has a blanket stuffed around his legs. It's loud and dark and cold. The Intelligista have deflated back to quiet and polite, talking cheerfully about an upcoming Knitting Factory show that A.J. is supposed to return and play. And you are wondering about them.

The Intelligista are not the tightest, most technical band around, though there's not much slack between them. And they are consciously, stubbornly anachronistic, breaking their own new ground only in one of the most unforgiving, arguably fossilized genres left—or, alternately, you think, within one of the most evergreen, timeless vocabularies ever devised. They are almost archaeological in their reverence and respect for rock & roll. If they were trying any harder, they'd be historical re-enactors; any less and they'd be failed homework assignments. Instead, they're right where they should be: they're cocky because they're 17, and they've already gotten right down to the heart of a certain kind of teenage rock & roll and drained out anything they wanted from it.

Listen, here's something every other rudderless punker band in OC is wondering, and here's the answer:

The reason we do not like your bands is because you are a feedback loop, a conduit for an environment and an experience and a valueless suburban world to roll back over itself. You stimulate no sensation unobtainable from a shot of Red Bull or a dose of Ritalin; advance no point of view different from the one we get from a passenger seat on the 405; offer no human connection beyond a mailing list and a merch table. You are the cul-de-sac you live on.

And the Intelligista have nothing to do with cul-de-sacs. They might have copped the aesthetic of the Who, but they've got the furious suburban frustration of the Modern Lovers and the alternate-world outsider solidarity of the Monks, all bands that through sheer discipline and personality and ambition managed to detach themselves from whatever boring place they had to plug their amps in and attach themselves to something beamed in from out of time or outer space. The Intelligista are nerds and aliens and anachronistic teenage misfits. That's a great place to start your band. And when you watch them play, you feel like you know them a little better.

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