New Friends, New Enemies

Photo by James BunoanPaper Planes, Katie the Pest, This Song's a Mess and So Am I
Que Sera, Long Beach
Saturday, Feb. 14

So we go and write this radioactively glowing review of the Paper Planes CD, hyping this show at the end of it, and people we know come out to this gig just because they weirdly trust our opinions about music, and they shoot us glances that say, “I am here and I have paid my $5 cover charge because of you, so this band had better be amazing,” and suddenly we're not merely there to review a band, but we're also getting reviewed ourselves. Would Paper Planes totally, completely blow once they stepped out of our CD player and onto a stage? Could we go from creating the buzz to killing it off in the span of one week's time? Would the greasy drunk guy who kept pestering us about booking his 21-year-old son (“He plays better'n Stevie Ray Vaughan ever did . . . UUUUURP!”) into the Que and who wouldn't shut up long enough to allow us to politely inform him that we (in fact) didn't work here? (No, he would not, which is why we simply walked away and hid in the bathroom till we got the all-clear.)

But before we could answer all these questions, we first had to survive a wiry cretin who gave himself the bull's-eye moniker This Song's a Mess and So Am I. He spent his set yammering into a microphone at ear-ripping volume and banging randomly on a tricked-out Yamaha keyboard, and in the fraction of a second it took us to decide whether he was trying to pull off bad performance art or a parody of bad performance art (we reached a compromise with ourselves, concluding that it was all bad), we realized that this was a special kind of sonic stench: the sort of sick torture device that Augusto Pinochet probably used on his Chilean countrymen in the 1970s and '80s. This cock could not be cut off—people actually applauded after his first piece, which only encouraged him. He twitched his body parts violently as if he were rocking out in his own private straight-edge band, and just when we thought life couldn't possibly get worse, he ended his grotesque display with an excruciating blast of white noise. This is what mad cow disease sounds like. Really: not even Hitler-humping white-power bands are this offensive.

Katie the Pest, meanwhile, were completely fabulous—though a pack of jackals tearing at our skull would've sounded better than what we'd just endured. This was two girls—one on guitar, the other pounding away on a kit—and they laid down some nifty, noisy pop songs that swirled around beautifully with a straight-from-the-garage Stratocaster clamor—songs only slightly refined, probably, from their poetic origins behind the locked doors of lonely teenage bedrooms. And unlike the music-as-insecticide approach of the previous act, people actually liked Katie the Pest enough to draw near the stage. Not all of it was in tune, but none of that mattered because Katie the Pest brought heart, soul and spirit back to a night when, just moments earlier, we felt like killing ourselves—or at least everyone playing a Yamaha keyboard.

And then, nervous time with Paper Planes, who got off to a somewhat sloppy, unimpressive start with an unmemorable new tune and followed that up with a rather ordinary punkish one. “No, really, you gotta believe us!” we felt like telling everybody “They really are great!” Then they began their fun, stretched-out, shout-along opus “Live How We Live” (which they cheekily dubbed “Buy the Band a Drink”), and hope rose in us. A short, sweet Valentine ditty followed, and then they whipped out “Fever Blister,” the best crank-it-really-loud tune they have (faster-paced this night than on plastic, threatening at times to veer off course and delivered with near-punk speed; good, but could've been better). The crowd had come around by now, and the band piqued everyone's curiosity by bringing up a tambourine shaker and cowbell whacker for “Mexico,” and then even the songs we were hearing for the first time along with everybody else started sounding better and great. For a dnouement, they shot off a lovely feedback barrage that reminded us of Crazy Horse, or at least something that our old favorite (and much, much, much missed) Long Beach band Peepshot would've done.

So maybe they weren't as mind-blowing live as we were hoping, but they're still better than a helluva lotta other bands out there, which was reason enough for us to watch for their next gig. Which hopefully will not be on a shared bill with This Song's a Mess and So Am I.

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