Photo by Chris Ziegler THE SECONDS/UPSILON ACRUX/THE EX MODELS
YOUTH DROP-IN CENTER
WEDNESDAY, MAY 15
It might not officially be the new Koo's Art Cafe—not at least until someone writes "Crustation Nation" on a toilet seat or solicits a transsexual prostitute in the back alley—but the Garden Grove Youth Drop-In Center is as Koo's as we can get right now, and that's just fine with us. In fact, in some ways, it's even better. The Drop-In has such a cheerful warm-and-fuzzy vibe—you know, between the rainbow-and-flowers paintings on the walls and the pamphlets gently deflating the mystique in dating older men—that you expect someone to pirouette in between bands with a tray of brownies and an armful of enthusiastic hugs. Best of all: at this Koo's-come-lately, you can sit on the couches and still see the bands play, instead of just watching emo kids desultorily trying to get the pinball machine to work. Can't stop the rock & roll, indeed!
Couldn't stop New York's Seconds either, even with a fill-in bass player. Rarely do bands make so much with so little—the Minutemen leap immediately to mind—and it's a quivery pleasure to catch a band with every musician concerned firing on all cylinders. Guitarist/singer Zach lifted more than a little from the flint-and-steel anti-riffing of No New Yorkers like DNA (not to mention Australian punk standard-setters X—yeah, the other X—who you should all be listening to by now), but he did it with calculated and welcome restraint, spiking a tight little lead into the bass-and-drums roller-coaster at only the most effective moments. There are a lot of ways you can get into this band—we said James Chance and the Contortions, and they laughed ruefully—but nascent hipster babies might even manage to put their Nation of Ulysses or Dischord fuck-rock-let's-art LPs to work for them. It's hard to be challenging and catchy at once, but the Seconds do it—they're the dancing man's think-party band!
San Diego's Upsilon Acrux (hmm . . . those are sort of like real words, right?) weren't as boogie-friendly as the Seconds, instead putting their energy into preciously impressive lattices of music that you're either gonna love or attack with a bolt-cutter. Seriously: the song where they all stood up, folded their arms into chicken wings and made bird noises for a few bars? That right there is gonna determine your kill-or-thrill response. Technically, they were rock-solid, though an act this intricate demands facilities more forgiving than the Drop-In Center can muster: all those tinkly little keyboard accents and big clanking bass guitar beatings sort of fuzzed out into a lot of impressive BRRRRRRR-CLINK-WREEP-WREEP-BUZZ, and deprived of the opportunity to fully marvel at ever-more-dizzying heights of instrumental mastery, we were left with the same sort of spectacular entertainment you might glean from watching five intense guys team up to assemble a Swiss watch. They were at their best when they moved beyond their gotcha! songwriting (you know, the kind that you expect to never do what you expect) into actually playing with the sounds they were making like they were batting a ball around—their two drummers didn't always click (so to speak), but when they made their own visceral stereo effects by bouncing supertight fills from one side of the stage to the other, it was the kick they needed.
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New York's Ex Models were loud, rough and somehow very art-y, like if Pere Ubu learned how to knife fight. They'd bump their vocals into each other, and you'd think Vs.-era Mission of Burma; they'd let a guitarist roll out a few notes by himself, and you'd think Gang of Four. Or they'd play a stubbornly fucked version of "She Blinded Me With Science," and you'd think, "Oh, irony, will you ever leave us be?" But you'd think it in the good way, not in the pop-punk-band, corpse-fucking, another-retro-standard way—not to discourage corpse-fucking, but really, people, anything Cyndi Lauper had to say was said long, long ago. But the Ex Models do pretentious art-music right—you know, by jumping around and yelling their thesis statements right into your fucking face!—and so they're allowed to revisit decades' worth of cultural detritus and reclaim anything they want. The stars are finally aligning, we thought: Koo's has risen again, New Yorkers have rediscovered the joy of putting convoluted social theory to a herky-jerky backbeat, and there's finally a place in OC to see the traveling freak show that is the fringe of the American rock & roll underground. If only we could get some transsexual prostitutes in here, then we'd really be rocking.