Show reviews: OFF! at Amoeba; howardAmb, Bobb Bruno, Sandy Yang, and DSS at The Smell; Ray Barbee and Paul Kwon at Pacific Standard 2; RFTC and Dan Sartain at The Echoplex


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Whoa, the new OFF! album is a beast and Tuesday’s record release in-store at Amoeba Hollywood kicked ass. Not some lukewarm sampler but a full-on, raging 16-song set! Of course for this particular band that adds up to about 30 minutes but damn. Quality minutes of world-class hardcore punk from the originals, measured with Sabbathian darkness and riffs.

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Keith bantered less between songs than usual–maybe because he was comfortably at home on the eve of a big tour and not stuck in a van where his observations and thoughts build up and explode all over the crowd. Dmitri said the band only practiced about 45 minutes for this warm-up set, but they’re already at ramming speed and ready to blow minds and wreak havoc in the pit. Can’t wait to see them at The Roxy in a couple of weeks. Sadly, it will be past Eloise’s bedtime on a school night, which is too bad because she loves watching Mario rip it up on the drums (with RFTC, too) and was already a big fan of Steven McDonald’s work with Redd Kross, as well (especially the last album).

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A couple of weeks ago, I made a pilgrimage to The Smell to see a killer lineup of howardAmb and friends, including old-school GR contributor and my longtime pal Sandy Yang.

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Opening the show was David Scott Stone, who has played with The Melvins, Unwound, The Locust, Big Business, No Age… For this set he played some sort of modular synthesizer, connecting plugs and turning knobs to make heavy sounds and grooves. I don’t understand how this sort of musical science works at all, but was both fascinated and totally drawn into it. Head bobbing, head scratching, bitchin’.

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Sandy was next, playing her deconstructed blues with the guys from howardAmb. No frills or filler, she channels the arty, noisy, New York side of punk with a modern DIY feel. Her songs always sound different–and just as rad–each time I see her, and hope they get a proper release one of these days so I can figure out what’s being tweaked, turned inside out, and cranked up in her great live sets.

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Bobb Bruno is best known as the architect of Best Coast’s sound (which I adore) but his solo catalog would be just as famous in a more awesome world. It’s experimental and noisy but fun–as evidenced by his bear outfit. I love how his entire setup fits into a duffel bag and the leanest of gear can crank out the most brutal of metal sounds. So rad, so fun, and Best Coast fans need to see Bobb solo to fully appreciate the full range of his radness and undying commitment to rock.

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howardAmb has been fine-tuning its live set for at least a year now, and all that work showed in their deliberate, challenging set. How much of it was planned? How much of it was improvisational? Were they not totally happy with the mix? As a first-time listener of the latest sounds, I was sucked into it and can’t wait to hear it again. Fans of Krautrock, Psychic TV, and the Residents take note.

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More friends playing music. To celebrate the release of the brand-new Pacific Standard 2 skate zine, Derec Patrick asked some of his pals to jam. Ray Barbee played new takes on his old solo EPs. Still loopy and dreamy but with more of the fire that playing with the Mattsons has instilled him him. Seeing Ray and hearing is music is always great, but this set was especially meaningful for me because he revisited some of the cuts he played at the ceremony when Wendy and I got married. I was going to cry.

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Finally got to see my buddy Paul Kwon play some tunes, too. I was expecting a singer/songwriter solo sound like Elliott Smith or Bob Dylan but it turned out to have a totally fleshed-out Americana vibe more like Wilco. Yes, that’s Ray Barbee with the combo. Paul’s been playing out often so check him out if you can. I need to see him play somewhere where I can hear the lyrics better, or maybe just corner him over tea and make him spill the beans about what he’s singing one day.

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Mario sandwich. Did I mention that I caught Rocket From The Crypt when they busted through Los Angeles?

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Opening up was Dan Sartain, who played a stripped-down and sardonic (yet pure) mutation of rockabilly. His freakish demeanor isn’t for everyone but I was pretty sucked into his dark vibe. Kinda like the missing link between Speedo and Lux Interior, which is saying a load.

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Rocket From The Crypt have always been one of the best live bands around, mashing up hardcore energy with vintage R&B showmanship. And they might be more driven than ever after their nine-year (or so) break. All the hits and chops are present, but they play with a desperation as if every show might be the last that their rabid fans will ever see. It’s not just about them having fun but giving their audience maximum entertainment value as well. And that’s pretty much how it went at The Echoplex.

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Seeya at some in-between Coachella shows next week!


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