Live review: F- Up at the El Rey Theatre
During the headlining gig by the band that shall remain unnamed because its name is naughty, those security men, charged with containing the slamming, the crowd surfing, the moshing and the occasionally homoerotic groping, earned their wage: One got jacked in the head with a swinging microphone, another got drenched in water/sweat, and all of them no doubt left the venue with a few more bruises. And yet throughout it all, those charged with containing the mayhem never lost their cool.
Their job: to try and control a few hundred testosterone-buzzing men — and a few brave women — in a pit as frenzied and sweaty as any you're likely to see in 2011. It was a sight that felt time-traveled from 1985: hard-core punk kids throwing down, while a masterful band of distortion addicts onstage barreled out the riffs — in this case fronted by a big bald man named Pink Eyes, who stood at the foot of the stage in the crowd yowling about lord knows what and high-fiving his brothers and sisters.
With a family-unfriendly name that means “messed up,” the Toronto six piece outfit we'll call “F— Up” features three electric guitarists (Mike Haliechuk, Josh Zucker and Ben Cook), a bassist (Sandy Miranda) and a drummer, Jonah Falco; they rolled through a dozen songs with as much grace as energy, laying out gymnastic riff combinations as tight as they were surprising, as curiously meandering as they were self-assured.
Touring in support of its deep, dynamic new concept album, “David Comes to Life,” F— Up delivered the rock as though with a fork lift and crane. But then, it’s been working at it for a decade now, making solid, shocking and often weird rock songs that draw on the history of distorted, sped-up first-generation American hard core and art punk such as that from Black Flag, Naked Raygun, Husker Du and the Germs — without resorting to mimicry.
Despite the wall of guitars and its lead singer, Pink Eyes (born Damian Abraham), whose scream-singing could turn “Over the Rainbow” into an existential death march, what F— Up does is rather beautiful.
“The Other Shoe,” for example, began with a jerky riff but soon became entangled in two jagged, ringing guitar lines that made the danger somehow pretty, even when Pink Eyes — who as a vocalist lacks any sort of nuance, to say the least — yowled above it, “Butterflies, my stomach starts to heave/What joyous blunder waits for me?” The song then meandered onto a hidden pathway that led to a big, shape-shifting bridge.
On “Son the Father,” from 2008's “The Chemistry of Common Life,” the band brought a series of choppy, foggy guitar clusters gradually into focus until Pink Eyes let loose with a wail beckoned from the heart of some volcano somewhere, and the band lobbed a boulder of a riff into the pit. The refrain was sung by the band as a series of high-pitched wails and served as the Greek chorus in a parable about religion: “It's hard enough being born in the first place/Who would ever want to be born again?”
It was hard to argue with the logic, especially when a band as … up as this one is pounding the question into your head.
-- Randall Roberts
Photos: Lead vocalist Pink Eyes of the punk rock group ... Up perform at the El Rey in Los Angeles Tuesday night. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times.