Punk/garage rock, at its best, retains a mimimum of the "roll" in "rock 'n' roll" -- which, lest anyone forget, was orginally dance music. Alas, people forget this. But enthusiasts of proto-punk, mod, rockabilly, and old-school rock don't. They sure didn't last night at The Bunkhouse, the site of the Slovenly Records showcase for Neon Reverb. For while the attendance was low, those present boogied through most of the acts on the bill.
I got there when Brooklyn trio The Psyched was nearly at the end of its set. When you read "Brookyln trio," you might imagine a particular sort of band, maybe one of the precious and insufferable category. But The Psyched doesn't fit the stereotype. This was raw, stripped-down, bare-boned (perhaps to the bone) rawk -- though, with enough of a rhythm section to get a few hips swinging. For myself, it was a suitable warm-up.
The first of two San Juan bands followed. Los Vigilantes are essentially the Puerto Rican version of The Black Lips. They play rollicking and infectious garage rock that hearkens back to the early 1960s and, occasionally, harmonize 1950s style -- and do so rather irreverently. Serving as the Cole Alexander of Los Vigilantes is bassist/vocalist Javier Garrote, who performs wearing just his boxers, a cape-ish thing and shows -- a get-up that facilitates mooning the audience (while rhythm guitarist Pepe Carballido makes farting noises into his mic). He also snarled his way through the boogie-provoking 40-minute set, aided in particular by ace guitarist Jorge Mundo and drummer Rafael Diaz, who maintained remarkable precision in between large swigs of the cheap whiskey the band probably scored at a liquor store hours before.
The Vigilantes' tourmates, Las Ardillas, played next. If Los Vigilantes celebrate the roots of punk, Las Ardillas favor the genre's earliest icons: The Sex Pistols, The Dead Boys, Black Flag (which was the band of choice on singer Gianky's t-shirt) and even The Clash. Assisted by Los Vigilantes' Mundo, the sextet blasted through the feisty set, chock full of power chords and anthemry than contrasted their fellow contrymen's more pop leanings (its "Be My Baby" drumbeat tease aside). That said, Las Ardillas were no less catchy or rhythmically blessed, though only a handful of the total attendance actually bothered to take it in. Maybe that's why Gianky and bassist Koki nearly rumbled with one of the bar's patrons, even though Bunkhouse security had already ejected the fellow. And if those dudes were expressive and primordial on stage, they certainly weren't holding back as they prepared to fight.
Only the music felt combative during Acid Baby Jesus' frequently cacaphonous closing set. Squalls of noise were barely anchored to the Athens, Greece psych-rock quintet's rhythm section, which manged to lock in only some of the time (including drummer Marko's occasionally mantra-like drums that heightened one particular instrumental trip). As such, of all the bands, Acid Baby Jesus saw the most onlookers but the least amount of moving bodies, perhaps unsure how to react to the meandering, unpredictable racket -- reference points: Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, The Flaming Lips, also The Black Lips -- they were taking in. That could explain why the band resorted to odd gestures, such as singer/guitarist Noda giving his mic to the moose head above the stage, and guitarist Otto tried singing into the kickdrum mic. Or why it dedicated its song "Vegetable" to Las Vegas, which sounded vaguely like an insult. We would have rather he mooned us, too.
Note: Acid Baby tourmate Hellshovel was on the bill but canceled its performance. As of press time, no explanation was offered.