All words: Jeb Gavin
Why does it feel so silly to fall in love with rock and roll again? This question appears in my notes from back when I saw Kurt Vile at Rams Head nearly a year ago, and it comes back to me like a pleasant tingle at the base of my spine every time I see a great rock show. In the case of Thursday night’s concert at the Black Cat this meant Ty Segall and his opening act Ex-Cult were the objects of my affection. Setting aside my own parenthetical answers, I’d say it comes down to the youth: rock and roll makes you feel young, though it helps if you’re being jostled by a crowd of amped up teenagers spilling beer all over the place.
Segall plays pretty straight forward garage rock, scuzzy, distorted, grinding guitars over pounding drums and thumping bass. He manages to convey urgency without increasing tempo. From the first, in this case “Thank God for the Sinners,” the music trots, and yet the audience reacts as though it’s a full gallop.
Something about his music elevates it above the usual fracas. Instead of sloshing around, the sound is focused; there’s intensity but also directness, inverting the normal full speed ahead, who cares what sort of mess we make attitude. The music sounds more like a David Smith sculpture rather than a Jackson Pollock painting- abstract, but still quite real. Watching him and his band play is like watching people break rock music itself into component parts, and reassemble it seamlessly in front of an audience in real time. It’s something you occasionally see with virtuoso electronic musicians, but rarely on as simple a genre. How the hell do you discombobulate three chords and a back beat into something new, and stretch it out over an hour?
Finally- and I really hope this isn’t read as some sort of half-assed addendum, I was amazed by Ex-Cult. Maybe I just haven’t been to a good hardcore show in a while, but the Memphis band celebrates the history of slamming around like few others. There’s a young energy to them, and polish unexpected from a band whose lead singer is clearly doing his best Henry Rollins impersonation. What amazed me most (aside from Natalie Hoffmann masterfully strangling her bass like Steve Youth while looking like my high school girlfriend,) was guitarists JB Horrell and Alec McIntyre trading distorted licks from opposite sides of the stage. The sound briefly reminded me of The War on Drugs, using old jam band pedal rigs to reel off peals of noise. Hell, maybe Wayne Coyne was right, but I wonder what would happen if we gave the punk rockers some molly instead?