Reatards, The, Tokyo Electron,and the Angry Angles: Live at the Hemlock Tavern, San Francisco, 10/29/05 By Benke

Dec 10, 2005

Photos by Canderson

It is impossible to tell what child might grow up to become a Cultural Ambassador. The meekest, homeliest, most awkward and fucked up young kid may someday find himself a clued-in diplomat of all things hip, underground and primitively rock'n'roll. My journey to self-proclaimed ambassadorship was not an easy one. When it came to the fundamental aspects of life that made me the person I am today, I wasn't the hippest cat in the alley. I was way behind the learning curve, a veritable late bloomer. Things I take for granted today - alcohol, illegal drugs, sex with a woman, punk rock, the Reatards - I came to relatively late in life. I was especially tardy with the Reatards. I missed it all the first time around: the hate-filled blasts of menacing punk rock, the screaming, the twisting, the flailing, the fighting, the getting kicked outta more clubs before the age of eighteen than most bands have a chance to play in their lifetimes, the broken mics, the black eyes, the mic cords wrapped around the neck, and the fucking whores that fueled all that rage. A three-and-a-half hour drive and eight buck cover charge seemed a small price to pay to catch the band nearly ten years on and see if they have any of that pissed-off, adolescent vitriol left in them, now that they're all grown up.

As I drove down the rolling hills into the East Bay, I cracked the window, took a deep breath of fresh ocean air and had the only thought that could have possibly entered my mind: Where's the nearest bar? My running partner for the night's event was Brother Don and we hit the local pub down the street from his apartment. Don's and my appetites for alcohol run contrary to each other, which was apparent when the waitress set our drinks in front of us. Amstel Light in a bottle: Don. Twenty-five ounce St. Pauli Girl draught (on special): me. We finished our beers at the same time (not surprisingly) after I told Don the story of the previous weekend's bizarre, mind-altering night on the town. The story goes...

I met my good friend H for a drink after work at one of "Reno's Best" bars, where he was hitting on two enormous women. The younger, cuter one strung H along for the better part of an hour, took him for a couple of drinks, then disappeared. The uglier gal mentioned the words "illegal" and "drugs," though not at the same time, which was good enough for H and me. We hopped in her car and drove to her apartment where, out of what was obviously sheer desperation for any sort of companionship, she gave us some psychedelic mushrooms to eat. H and I got good and tripped out before we left, H asking to use the toilet before we made our way back to the bar. He couldn't find it, even though it was a one bedroom, five hundred square foot apartment, because the hall light was turned off and he thought he was "walking into a black hole." In the ten seconds it took for our host to walk H down the hallway to the bathroom, I managed to spring from my seat on the couch, rummage through the drawer where she kept her stash, steal her mushrooms and return to my seat as if I had never moved. She checked the drawer before we left and asked if either of us had her mushrooms. H looked at her incredulously and I responded, "Huh?" Later, after a spectacular cab ride home, I called H to tell him about the pilfering and laughed so raucously that I nearly woke the Missus.

...Beers gone, we headed out for Ethiopian food, drank honey wine and drove across the bridge into the San Francisco night.

We arrived at the Hemlock, observed Halloween revelers in costume making googly eyes at each other and bought our drinks from a girl whose face appeared to be melting, making our way to the back room just as the Angry Angles took the stage. Once they did, all heterosexual men had their eyes on the bass player, Alix. She had that Swinging London go-go dancer look and exuded steamy rock'n'roll sexuality with every bat of the eyelashes. Had the Missus been there, she would have kicked me in the nuts for the obvious and prurient way I was ogling Ms. Alix. As for the music, "Things Are Moving," "Stab You Dead," and "Black Hole" sounded better and more aggressive live than on record, which is saying a whole lot, considering that the Shattered 7" is equal parts Ponys and Spits with a bit o' dark, keyboard-less new wave scattered among the grooves. Jay's intensity onstage was impressive, a harbinger of the set to come, shouting lyrics into the microphone and jerking suddenly back and forth. The look on his face when Alix fucked up a tune, switching keys mid-song, was priceless. Angry Angles threw in a killer cover of the Oblivians' "Memphis Creep" towards the end of the set, which was fairly short, but left those who arrived early enough to see them with smiles on their faces.

Tokyo Electron recorded one of the finest LP's I've heard this year and there was a palpable air of excited anticipation in the room as they got set to start playing. Ryan Rousseau, who was drumming for the Angry Angles, came out from behind the kit to lead the band through a set of stellar songs. I was well on my way to obliterating my brain with alcohol at this point, so the order in which the tunes were played is a bit hazy. I know they rocked solid versions of "Hangman's Song," "Electrify Me," "Mis Ojos," and "Make Me Bleed," to which a guy who looked like a surf Jesus went ballistic, an anomaly for this set, as the SF crowd looked on with characteristic stoicism. By the time Tokyo Electron got around to playing "I Can't Have You," surf Jesus was knocking into the folks standing around him, garnering dirty looks from people whose intention of actually doing something about it matched their intentions to do more than merely bob their heads while the band played. Had he grabbed one of them and yelled, "Stare hard, REATARD!" I would have bought surf Jesus a beer. People did start moving as the band ripped into their final number, the best song on the LP, "Dark Skin Lady." Holy mother of god, if that ain't the ass-shakingest, dirty-groovingest piece of greasy punk rock to come out this year, it's news to me. Fuck yeah.

The guys in the Reatards sucked down drinks at an alarming and downright impressive rate during the break between their and Tokyo Electron's sets. Ryan Wong did his best award show host impression, making his fourth wardrobe change of the night before the band started playing, which Brother Don found hilarious, as each outfit was equally as shabby as the previous one. I assume the change of clothes was the reason for Mr. Wong's late arrival to the stage. His tardiness did not sit well with Mr. Reatard, who slung a number of biting, personal insults at Mr. Wong while he was missing. "Somebody tell that scar-faced motherfucker to get his ass to the stage!" Jay roared. He was literally frothing at the mouth tonight, and the band had yet to play its first chord. When he finally appeared, Jay greeted Ryan with a warm, heartfelt "you fucking cocksucker." Things got dangerous immediately. Jay screamed into the mic, pummeled his guitar and took care of a glaring oversight by club management by shattering his drink against the wall because, clearly, there wasn't enough broken glass at the front of the stage. The crowd, subdued for the earlier acts, was a pulsating mass of cathartic energy and seemed on the brink of either hurting or being assaulted by the lead singer, who punched himself in the face repeatedly. Ryan Wong added to the commotion by taking any glass within reach, setting it atop his cymbals and smashing it with his drumstick. Jay continued to menace the audience, insult his band mates and yell obscenities between songs. As I mentioned, I was hammered and can't recall all the specifics of what he was hollering about, but no amount of alcohol could erase the memory of a white guy screaming "you fucking niggers" at the top of his lungs in front of a crowd of people. Brother Don and I glanced at each other with a look that said, "This guy is fucking crazy." It wasn't long before Jay had removed his guitar, rammed his head into his amp, stuck his head into the bass drum during a song and flew across the stage, grabbing Steve Sleaze by the hair and attempting to smash his head through the wall. The show culminated in some violent crowd surfing and Mr. Sleaze, visibly enraged by his treatment during the show, breaking a full bottle of beer on his head.

Back by the merch table a woman affiliated with the bar was chastising the soundman about the destruction that took place on stage. "There's broken glass everywhere up there! You know how hard that's going to be to clean up?!" Lady, did you have any idea at all about the band hired to play your bar? Nobody could have left the Hemlock that night and not been impressed with the ferocity, the irresponsibility, the sense that somebody might have had their head kicked in by the singer if they weren't paying attention. The Reatards may be older, but they haven't grown up one bit.