Live Review: No Age and Growing at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock
Songwriter David Berman once wrote that "punk rock died when the first kid said 'Punk's not dead,’" but he surely wasn't at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock on Saturday night, where Los Angeles band No Age ripped through an hour-long set of noisy but melodic punk songs.
The band’s incendiary performance caused a wild combination of slam dancing, pogoing and crowd-surfing among the sold-out, Converse-and-mustachioed (the men, not the women) crowd. It felt not like the death of a musical genre but a rebirth.
No Age, a two-piece band featuring drummer/singer Dean Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall, was born in 2005 within the influential downtown L.A. all-ages club the Smell, and over the course of two albums has become one of the most acclaimed guitar bands in the country. Its rich, explosive 2009 album "Nouns" was released on Sub Pop Records, and the group is currently recording its follow-up.
At the South by Southwest music festival in March, the pair began augmenting their live shows with a third member, electronics/sampler noisemaker Cundo Bermudez, and Saturday marked the band’s Los Angeles debut with this expanded line-up.
If crowd response is any indication, it was a great move. After an impressive, Motorik-propelled set by buzzing Brooklyn band Growing, No Age opened with about a minute of feedback, and the people, packed tight, remained relatively calm, letting the noise wash over them. But when drummer Spunt and guitarist Randall locked into the first rolling riffs, the dance floor liquefied, people swayed and jumped, and soon started bumping shoulders before collapsing into harder slamming. A body rose up within the crowd, and moved around like Gulliver being carried by the Lilliputians.
No Age's is a massive sound that transcends genre archetypes. Some songs, such as "Sleeper Hold," suggest 1990s British shoegaze, what with the layers of guitar distortion and feedback that scratch out hard-edged melodies. They offer the sibilant hiss of early Pavement, but with a structured precision of "My War"-period Black Flag.
Unlike similarly melodic post-punk bands such as Nirvana and the Pixies, who perfected songs that followed tension-release loud-soft-loud patterns in which calm begets fury, No Age’s strategy on Saturday followed a loud-louder-loudest template. A few dozen people no doubt had Sunday morning scrapes and bruises to prove it.
The addition of a third touring member has added an ocean of sound. When they perform as a two-piece, Randall and Spunt wrestle with the high and low frequencies, but the midrange is sometimes left open. With Bermudez working samplers, those spaces were filled with meandering, free-floating treble, or deep warble, or abrasive flutter, which, combined with Randall’s guitar effects inside the cavernous Center for the Arts, created overtones that are probably still echoing somewhere in the galaxy.
No Age closed with "Miner," one of the highlights of "Nouns." It’s a song that rolls with a sharpness and consistency of a Ramones anthem, only to fall apart and seemingly get lost within a mess of beatless noise. When this happened, it felt like the band had lost control, or abandoned the rhythm and melody that got them there. But then, vaguely, faint traces of it started to rise out of the feedback, as if just outside of No Age’s grasp. It was in there, buried, this sound of germination, the impending blossom of something prickly but beautiful.
-- Randall Roberts
Top photo: No Age at the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times
Bottom photo: The pit during No Age's show Saturday night. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times