Spider Bags, The Golden Boys, Limes
Sept. 20, 2012

The song “Que Viva El Rocanrol” was released twice, almost simultaneously, in August 2009. It appeared first on Compulation Volume 3: Songs from North Carolina, released by Pox World Empire, and then again about a week later on Spider Bags‘ second full-length, Goodbye Cruel World, Hello Crueler World. In hindsight, it was an early signal of Spider Bags’ semi-recent surge in local and national prominence.

By now the song has become something of a hit, a staple in the Bags’ live gigs, and a rallying cry to rock ‘n’ roll fans holding on to a sound that seems ever to be slipping from public consciousness as electronic music, hip-hop and murky, reverb-drowned pop offer the sounds du jour. Churchkey Records, the 5-year-old local imprint that issued Spider Bags’ 2010 “Take It Easy Tonite” 7-inch, adopted the “Que Viva” imperative to title its Hopscotch day party a showcase of few-frills garage rock bands including Spider Bags, Last Year’s Men and Cheater Slicks and emblazoned it in hashtag-form on T-shirts.

All this to say it’s noteworthy that Spider Bags didn’t play that song at Kings on Thursday night, and it’s even more noteworthy that its absence wasn’t glaring.

Right now Spider Bags are the best they’ve been. Last month, the band released its third album, the infectious and impulsive Shake My Head, and with it shortened the Local Album of the Year shortlist. Live, they’ve coalesced into a stable (remarkable given the amount of turnover the Bags saw early on) and intuitive trio whose on-stage chemistry is magnetic. The trio formation found its footing by mutating frontman Dan McGee’s songs into sets that could be a loose and sprawling psych meander or a tight punk-rock suckerpunch; now, they manage both. Their gigs thrive on creating a perception of recklessness, threatening to careen into chaos but usually gripping the rails barely tight enough.

Thursday, they offered a varied and rambunctious set that toyed with calamity but held fast to its momentum and intention. After two songs sung by the former Dirty Little Heaters frontwoman and blues-rock belter par excellence Reese McHenry, the Bags launched into a set heavy on Shake My Head material (and highlighted by the crowd’s enthusiastic sing-alongs to “Simona La Ramona,” “Friday Night” and “Keys to the City”). “Que Viva,” it seems, might have been redundant; every song Spider Bags played felt like a celebration and an affirmation of no-qualifiers rock ‘n’ roll.

In fact, the whole, seamlessly matched triple-bill managed to reinforce that notion. The Memphis band Limes, led by songwriter Shawn Cripps, met hard, greasy country-funk twang with jagged post-punk. The Golden Boys of Austin, Texas, charged their set with pop propulsion, suggesting an unvarnished Sloan. Spider Bags, for their part, formed a bridge between Limes’ sinewy twang and the Golden Boys’ irrepressible pop. It was a show that demonstrated rock ‘n’ roll’s staying power and found opportunities to further interpret the idiom. In other words, it was the difference between showing and telling. Calling out “que viva” just seemed unnecessary.