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In Short: A.A. Bondy at the Echo; Hockey at Spaceland; Des Roar at the Redwood

January 18, 2010 |  5:44 pm


Around dinnertime Saturday, the Echo was strangely, alarmingly packed. Onstage was a lanky, clean-cut fellow with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, singing about vampires over little flurries of fingerpicking. Not the sort of thing to hold 300 teenagers rapt (well, maybe the vampire part) before the night's affairs really got started, but A.A. Bondy has weirdly become the crush object of late for earnest young punk kids getting a first taste of shoe-leather folk.

Bondy cuts a kind of Townes Van Zandt figure onstage -- very tall, all joints and a bit spooked in his demeanor. It’s sort of unbelievable that he fronted the gnarly proto-grunge band Verbena (in a younger and more platinum-bleached time in his life), considering that he’s adapted to this new setting so thoroughly. The Alabama native has a creaky little tenor that’s pointedly Southern without being affected, and an easy way with dense guitar runs and sprawling verses. The songs from his latest album, “When the Devil’s Loose,” have a sneaky way with atmosphere (deftly re-created live with a two-piece and a sampler), and it’s easy to see how he became the wandering bard of choice for the FYF Fest set -- he’s striking to watch and a bit of an expert bull-spinner. “I’m actually checking my BlackBerry right now,” he said while tuning, and surely prompted a few of the kids out there to put down their phones and listen closer.

A few hours later at Spaceland, however, the Portland, Ore.,  quartet Hockey seemed like exactly the sort of band that would amend its Facebook status updates onstage. They play a kind of overheated stew of every blog-centric indie-rock trend of the last five years -- and that’s not wholly a knock. They’ve absorbed a lot of the cross-pollinating ethic of late, where house beats and blue-eyed soul can coexist comfortably with tangled beards. It’s all buffed with a technical deftness that preemptively diffuses jokes about their singer’s seriously goofy feather earrings.

There was a caffeinated pop-savvy smarm to the whole thing that might engender the same knee-jerk hatred that Vampire Weekend gets for having the gall to be good looking, skilled and having fun onstage. Hockey probably (mercifully) won’t rhyme lyrics about sweetened rice beverages with lines on fearsome winter head coverings (though they do have the chutzpah to sing “I’ve got too much soul for the world” while wearing some really awful headbands), but they should steel themselves for similar flack, because they’ll be inescapable in about six months. 

For a bit of a palate cleanser after all that party sheen, the New York garage-sleaze quartet Des Roar did nicely at the Redwood on Sunday night. Their boozy and misanthropic album “Mad Things” seems to have been recorded for the sole purpose of juicing Valtrex prescription quotas across the land. It’s a nasty but ferociously hooky little thing, equal parts Ramones immediacy and the Cramps’ maniacal sneer. Do you know how creepy it is to hear their adorable ripper of a drummer Lyla Vander sing along to a tune called “Ted Bundy Was a Ladies Man”? You don’t, but you should.

-- August Brown

Photo: A.A. Bondy picks at the brush. Credit: Jean Alcide