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all words: Tristan Lejeune, all photos: Brandon Weight

Why is it always so easy to get to the front row at Black Cat? Does no one know !!! has come to town? Sure, I’ve never seen them live either, but I respect them – none of their albums suck, and our friends more inclined to festivals say they leave stages burning behind them. Plus, BYT ran this nice interview with them on Friday. Getting up close and personal with guys like this should be a little harder.

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The intimate experience with !!! on Saturday night was … warm, to say the least. Lead singer Nic Offer emerged wearing either very thin shorts or a swimsuit (regardless, they were SOME GIRLS printed, and that’s what matters,right?), and by the end he did look like he just got out of a pool.

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It’s clear Offer is the type of performer who feels the urge to connect with his audience physically; he danced among the crowd, gyrated his hips inches from our faces and reached out to touch us.

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Even I warranted a sweaty caress or two, once while Offer sang a few bars of “Heart of Hearts” into my face. That was nifty. Offer’s preening and posing persona is like a horny 16-year-old trying to channel Beck and Ian Curtis at the same time – and that’s meant as a compliment. There were five other men up there, but attention was squarely on the one in short pants.

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“Hearts” is one of several songs with a sideway-strut guitar lick and avalanche drum section that the dance-punk triple exclamation point kicked square in the pants. Sometimes crowded stages take away cohesive sound, but everyone did their part here.

“Talking, talking to himself,” Offer sang, “but not even he is listening.” The bass line grabs itself another beer.

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!!! is pronounced chk chk chk, but it looks like an inexpressible interjection, or perhaps a comic book typo. Apparently it comes from the Bushmen subtitles of “The Gods Must Be Crazy,”  but whatever its source, the name speaks to a band going for a unique experience, one impossible to put into words. Or even letters. They may not have reached that level of post-funk sublimity yet, but don’t tell that to the hoppity-boppity audience looking like they’re having the time of their lives.

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Not that there wasn’t plenty worth jumping around to. This was a Saturday, after all, and the band played until after midnight – horns, keyboard and stomping.

“Jack Ruby” sounds like Modest Mouse at its most on-the-prowl, and some songs win just for the names they show up in, like “Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass” or “Even Judas Gave Jesus a Kiss.” Not every single one sticks the landing, though.

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A few of !!!’s crunchier tunes lose their way on the path to JamBands-ville; some of the their bridges leave parts behind, like active but unattended puppies. But just like the dogs, they can be endearing even when they make a mess. On verve, vim and vigor, !!! is check, check, check.

New tracks like “Slyd” and “Even When the Water’s Cold” prove !!! has lots of good material still in reserve. This California-based group has seen several permutations as members come and go, but the current version does not disappoint.

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Looks like we can tell our festival-loving friends: they were right about this one.

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