“Pretty girls/Pretty boys/Have you ever heard your mommy say/Noise annoys,” The Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley once sang. Here to prove mommy wrong is Oops! The Tour, which is coming to the Triangle this week. The idea for the event originated with a series of concerts held in Chicago in the ’90s that featured a revolving cast of bands. The current cross-country tour assembles a fun-loving bunch from off the beaten path, including Lightning Bolt, Arab on Radar, Orthrelm, Rah Bras and The Locust. Indie-rock fans with purist ideals might be challenged by this loose, sometimes improvised kind of music. But this new breed of rock and punk-inspired musicians is creating a niche (and a sound) that’s as refreshing as it is loud.
The tour brings together a good representation of the bands at the forefront of this post-everything sub-genre. The musicians can be divided into roughly two camps: the studied artist with a voracious appetite for new stimuli and the performer who uses homemade instruments or equipment–including masks and homemade costumes–to get his or her point across. While these groups are serious about what they’re doing, they also appear to be having a good time doing it.
But they’re flying a freak flag of a different order, taking the best elements of their favorite music, removing what they consider the fluff, and incorporating their own radical new ideas. The groups scheduled to play Go! are so diverse that a little background info is in order.
Orthrelm is an eruptive guitar and drum duo based out of Brooklyn (N.Y.) and D.C. Mick Barr unleashes the kind of stratospheric guitar licks usually found in heavy metal; it’s a barrage that owes more to free jazz than “Freebird.” Reverent without being recherché, he and drummer Josh Blair are able to borrow from an outmoded style–the hyper-speed metal guitar workout–and take it forward into new territory.
Providence, R.I.’s Arab on Radar brings a distinctly skewed world view to their songs, infusing their lyrics with a sense of black humor and bilious attitude that puts them in a league all their own. Singer Eric Paul rants about the conditions of his own private hell over the four-piece’s gurgling Captain Beefheart-esque rhythms. But it’s the reputedly confrontational nature of their stage show that makes their live appearances so legendarily “interactive.”
Just when you think that there’ll be no boogie-down segment of the show, Richmond’s Rah Bras will take the stage to deliver their shake-your-thang, synth-rock set. The trio consists of Isabellarah Rubella on keyboards and programmed beats, Boo Rah on bass and Jean Rah on skins (they occasionally switch duties). The trio’s steamy lyrics and libido-enhancing grooves give an edge to their dance music that sets them apart from the crop of smarmy synth-pop bands that seem to be popping up everywhere. Jean Rah, especially, likes to fix onlookers with a wide-eyed, thousand-yard stare while–during their theatrical between-song breaks–swinging a sword around his drum kit.
Speaking of dressing the part, the guys in the San Diego-based progressive hardcore group The Locust take the stage with homemade bug-eye masks and shiny, unearthly-looking suits reminiscent of DEVO. But that’s where the comparison ends. The Locust incorporates the screaming vocals and machine-gun guitar pace of hardcore punk, mix in some synthesizer blasts and then spit it out in minute-or-less shards. The band’s technical agility as they execute these little “doses” of rock stands as proof of their skill, as compared to the predictable hammering away of all those loud-and-fast-equals-better groups.
One thing these bands do have in common is that they all like to crank their amps way up. For the Providence, R.I. duo Lightning Bolt, volume is essential to their sound. Stripped down to the bare rock essentials of electric bass (Brian Gibson) and drums (Brian Chippendale), the two volley thundering bass arpeggios and barrages of drumbeats, leaving audiences awestruck. Or maybe it’s the duo’s swirling, densely layered riffs, delivered in three-minute chunks of beautiful noise, that are leaving onlookers speechless.
Last summer, the Bolt played a packed, sweaty basement party in Carrboro, shocking the audience members with the sheer mass of their sound. (Gibson is armed with a hybrid bass rig rumored to boast 3,200 watts.) Playing in a fog of humidity amid a cinder-block-thick wall of volume-induced rumble, they still left the audience clamoring for more. Chippendale has solved the singing-while-drumming problem by yelling into an old telephone mic attached to a contraption that looks sort of like a wrestling mask that he wears while performing. Even fans of loud music–folks who typically shun wearing earplugs–were scrambling for bits of dirty napkin (or, in some cases, the corner of their T-shirts) to withstand the sound, all the while nodding their heads in obvious glee.
Live is undoubtedly where it’s at for this kind of “rock” experience. If you want see what direction some of the genre’s more fringe players are heading, catch the Oops! circus when it swings through town. With five bands lined up and plenty of art and band merch to check out, you’ll want to arrive early and make the most of what should be a one-of-a-kind musical experience.