"The Canadian election is tomorrow," Fucked Up singer Pink Eyes said in the middle of the Toronto band's set at the Heirloom Arts Theatre in Danbury tonight. "No one cares. No one cares. Everyone in Canada wants to vote in the American election. Canada. Is. Pathetic. This next song is called 'Crooked Head,' about how Canadian priorities are fucked up."
It was an interesting turn of phrase, y'know, considering. But it was seamless, with the smarts and attitude of their set. Aside from having a fairly perfect name, Fucked Up is doing exactly what should be done with hardcore punk rock. If there's a more musically sophisticated, musically smarter band in hardcore right now, I want to know about it, and immediately. Their set proved them to be musically all over the map -- there are elements of art-rock, soul, early rock'n'roll and pop in their material, but they rev it all up and place it into a punk idiom. I wonder if the kids even knew what to do with it. I had to contrast the way the crowd treated them to the way the crowd treated opening band Hostage Calm (a very good old-school hardcore band with some catchy riffs and a totally sick drummer). During Hostage Calm's set, the kids erupted into a circle pit that took up maybe a third of the Heirloom's floor (I watched from the bar area upstairs -- have you ever watched a circle pit from a story up? it's kind of aesthetically interesting). During Fucked Up's set, there was a mass of kids near the stage, jumping up and down, climbing on each other's shoulders and straining for one of Pink Eyes' many passes of the microphone over the audience -- but very little moshing. Were the kids that absorbed, or did they just not know how to dance with this stuff? Can you mosh to the MC5? The Wipers? Fucked Up? I dunno; you'd have to get creative.
Two things worth pointing out: The members of Fucked Up collectively look a few years younger in person than they do in any photo I've seen of them, and Pink Eyes looks... bigger. He pulled off his shirt during the first or second song, and he's a heavy dude. Yet his energy is formidable. He began the set crouched near the front of the stage in a knees-bent hardcore stance and commenced owning the crowd from there. At one point, he mentioned he thought he'd thrown his back out; shortly thereafter he pulled a kid from the audience and told him to take his shoes off and stand on his back as he laid on the stage. There was something special going on between him and the audience.
Vivian Girls played before Fucked Up, and I'd been anticipating seeing them quite a bit, as I've been reading about them a lot -- usually glowingly, yet the songs I'd heard had done nothing for me melodically. Tonight, they sounded kind of like the late '50s or early '60s, if that era had included punk rock as we know it and had happened in space, and "space" was an urban art loft somewhere. Somewhere with a lot of reverb. In other words, they're working with about a zillion Things I Like. But only rarely did I really "see it." They have these great chord progressions that call to mind classic pop music, onto which they occasionally lay squalls of arty noise, but only four or so songs had catchy melodies to speak of. Those songs kind of ruled, but the rest of the set sounded... off. Maybe they were very sharp (vocally), maybe very flat, maybe based around the fifth of the chord rather than the more traditionally melodic root or third, maybe beginning or resolving a full tone or so off of the expected pop-song milieu. Maybe it's a matter of context. I'd heard them referred to as an excellent noise-pop band, and they were not. And yet everything I'm saying they did not-so-well are things I'd excuse in a good garage-punk band -- perhaps that's actually what they are, in reality. In that mode, it worked. Is it worth noting that the main singer played a Fender Squire guitar? That's like the Waterbury of Fender guitars: Close, trying, not entirely "it." Ignore the blogs and approach Vivian Girls as if they were their own thing -- something I'm evidently not able to do.
Missed 76% Uncertain -- again. I don't know if I'm the only person in Connecticut who grew up listening to punk rock yet has never seen 76% Uncertain or what. I've certainly tried a number of times. Hasn't worked out. Pink Eyes gave a shout-out to them, telling us we were lucky to have a band like that in Connecticut that was still active. I think he's right, but I have yet to see in person exactly why. Dammit.