Photo by James BunoanA bad blind date tonight. As an interviewer, you have just barfed in the prom queen's handbag, and you're still rolling your head back up for one last attempt at a kiss. The Wrangler Brutes—as befits prom queens—are gracious, understanding, each filled with $60 of your high-class food and bored to a coronary.
You couldn't be in a more right place for this kind of show-biz fizzle: Los Angeles' ritzy Chateau Marmont, where the city's second-tier elite discretely meet to be seen more than to see, and where fellow Black Flag fan John Belushi barfed his tragic last. And you couldn't be going more wrong. Every question falls like a spit wad onto the table. If this were a date, notes singer Sam McPheeters looking at no one in particular, it would have ended two hours ago.
"Has it been pointed out to you, Chris, that 'Orange County Weekly' is an anagram for 'No Nut Gay Core Weekly'?" McPheeters asks, folding his hands in his lap. "What the hell is going on there, man?" A waiter drops a tray of cutlery: perfect comic punctuation. Crash.
"And it is also an anagram, my friend," Sam gravely continues, "for 'Yo Tuna Negro Weekly.' Again, I ask: What's up?"
You stutter. Ha, ha, yeah, but, yeah, did you figure that out on the Internet? McPheeters looks genuinely puzzled.
"Are you taking drugs?" he asks.
And, you know, you probably should be.
But instead you are taking the Wrangler Brutes out for the classiest dinner of your no-account, high-carb, prole-food life because they could well be the next best—or last best?—band to attach themselves to the stove-in remnants of hardcore punk and because you thought your dinner ($60 each) would buy you something funny. Instead, it buys the Wranglers' informed culinary opinion—all have served in some degree of ritzy kitchen—and some floppy eggplant to gnaw on while they helpfully tell you their self-admittedly boring story, which, says Sam, begins with saying, "Hey, let's start a band. Let's have it be really good."
And that's it, really. Do the math, and you can reduce the Brutes to this: put four experienced, talented, motivated, intelligent and cultured—sure, cultured—people in a band, and you'll have a very good band.
Punk rockers who had a clue in the '90s or eBayed their way to a facsimile thereof already know the Brutes' French-poodle pedigree: Born Against, Men's Recovery Project, Monorchid, Skull Kontrol, Nazti Skins, Le Shok for about 10 minutes, and then some. And it works out easy: as base fact, the Wrangler Brutes are good. They are innovators in the most satisfying, difficult, rarely encountered way: they do not deign to suck.
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The story is simple. After all their other bands, McPheeters and guitarist Andy Coronado discussed decoding three old hardcore records into a new band. They refuse to say which three records because, they say, they are embarrassed. "Not Black Flag," says McPheeters, even though the Brutes have all the DamagedBlack Flag components, plus a better sense of humor and perspective. So let's say the Brutes are really more like the Yardbirds (look for a Coronado solo career soon, as well as a McPheeters-fronted Void Zeppelin); they charge old-timey collector-nerd music with bracing back-to-basics relevance, and a part of your brain that you thought died at 15 is suddenly awake, alert, gasping for breath, cracking out of atrophy and getting really pissed you've been spending all that money on Beach Boys records.
The minutes suffocated during the interview should have been a solo session with the Wrangler Brutes cassette instead. The tape tells all: Coronado's guitar lines like needles nicked on Plexiglas; Cundo Murad drained pale because he digs at his bass pick so hard; Brooks Headley plays drums "like an asshole," he says—as hard as you can, with as much gusto as you can. And Sam sings: "Anglo-Saxon on the freeway, a trick's been played on you/Everyone listens to rap music now!" The players only befuddle. By the time you realize this, the Brutes have finished their eggplant and decided to put you out of your misery. They drive you home. You will call later, you squeak. Sure, they say. Shake hands. McPheeters presses extrahard—slips a minutely folded note into your palm. At no point during the evening did you see him write anything down—you watch everything carefully; it's your job. He must have done it before you showed up. You open the note at home, alone, by the light of a desk lamp. It looks like a fortune cookie fortune, and it's just as prescient:
"This band," it says, "is a nightmare I can't wake up from."
Wrangler Brutes perform with Dillenger Escape Plan, The Locust and Your Enemies Friends at the House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-Blue. Sun., 6:30 p.m. $12-$18. All ages.