DEERHOOF with PERMAFROWN , the SOMME and the SICK LIPSTICK at Rancho Relaxo, August 22. Tickets: $7. Attendance: 140. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Much like ironically ugly hair cuts and artfully asymmetrical indie-punk outfits, the barely organized chaos of sloppy noise rock is something few can pull off with panache. It's hard to know how to judge a band whose sound has been carefully engineered to come across like it's teetering on the brink of total collapse. That's probably why, with the exception of, say, Sonic Youth, most post-punk noise ensembles have to settle for small pockets of cultish followers.
Yet there was a very healthy turnout for cuddly San Fran indie bashers Deerhoof last Friday night. The walls of Rancho Relaxo were lined with kids perched on chairs, craning their necks over the sea of faux mullets to catch a glimpse of teeny-tiny singer Satomi Matsuzaki .
Matsuzaki's a captivating frontwoman. Under 5 feet tall and totally unassuming, her sweetly naive phonetic chirps provide the calm in the eye of Deerhoof's swirling avant-rock storm. Think the pleasantly androidish delivery of Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier, but floating over a sea of relentless angular noise and geometric jazzy drums.
Like Japan's Boredoms, the band builds waves of harsh, no-wave guitars, relying on skronky dissonant chords instead of effects pedals to achieve a rippling wall of sound.
Just when you think the whole thing's gonna blow, Deerhoof yanks the tunes back under control. Out of the Sturm und Drang you'll hear a ballsy garage riff bubble up or a syncopated percussion line that sounds like it was snatched from a Dave Clark bebop ditty.
There's something refreshing and explosive in Deerhoof's combination of messy insanity and perfect pop melodies. They more than proved themselves worthy of the alterna-hype lavished on their recent Apple O' (Kill Rock) album.
I was less impressed by the rest of the lineup of no-wave mayhem. Openers Permafrown charmed with their medieval poetry, recorder (!) squawks and innocent synth hooks, but the atonal flatness of their vocals left me cold. Post-punk screamers the Somme won points for brutal energy but lost the program with completely unstructured songs.
Locals the Sick Lipstick floored the crowd with their organ-driven noise-punk attack, getting even the most po-faced hipsters shakin' their acid-washed asses. The cartoonishly sloppy group's been getting loads of buzz and obviously appeals to the art-school crowd, but I'm still not convinced. Compared to Matsuzaki's measured vocals, the Sick Lipstick's girly yelps seemed more grating than whimsical, and their herky-jerky tunes came off a bit samey.