Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
THE SPITS / RIGHT ON / THE BLANK ITS, SEATTLE 5/24/03....Spent a nice weekend away with the wife in Seattle this weekend. While she was combing her hair, I snuck out to the Crocodile Cafe on Saturday night to see some of the City's young & not-so-young garage punk bands. Actually the real reason was so I could finally watch Rob Vasquez play live and in person -- Vasquez, you may recall, was the barnburning guitar maniac responsible for some of the hottest garage-based punk rock of the 80s and 90s with his bands THE NIGHTS AND DAYS and the NIGHT KINGS, both criminally ignored in their day and to this day as well. Now he's got a new-ish trio called RIGHT ON and I couldn't miss the clarion call staring at me in the entertainment listings promising 45 minutes of his distorted, Link Wray-meets-James Williamson genius. But first, the other bands: THE BLANK ITS were quite good in that Rip Off records/Rezillos-meets-Supercharger style that's been front & center for a good decade now; definitely in the "learning to play" stage, but I was fully entertained. THE SPITS, who headlined, were surprisingly good, though it might've been the general enthusiasm of the crowd that had me going....they really lost big points early by coming on stage with that most tired of gags, KISS masks, but thankfully had them off & on the floor within a couple of songs. Their shtick is fast, fast & very tight keyboard-driven punk rock, sorta reminiscient of the DICKIES and RAMONES (complete with count-offs) played in a more, robotic, semi-"new wave" style. This last note is potentially disturbing, and I spent a few minutes during their 20-minute set wondering just how poseurish they really were. Were these no-spring-chickens playing bad grunge in the early 90s, a la THE BRIEFS? Were any of these guys once members of CANDLEBOX or BLOOD CIRCUS? There were no skinny ties, yet I'm still assigning some agents to look into the band, and will be giving them the benefit of the doubt for now. They did, to be fair, play a CAR (Coalition of Aging Rockers)-friendly 20 minute set!

But the real draw was Vasquez’s RIGHT ON. I missed the NIGHT KINGS in 1993 when visiting Seattle due to being otherwise engaged during one of their bafflingly rare shows, and then when I actually lived in Seattle from 1997-99, Vasquez was hiding somewhere raising children or some such. In any event, they were well worth the wait. Starting with a couple of mid-tempo, more rockish – but fiery & raw as hell – numbers than I’d anticipated, they led into 30 more minutes of shit-hot razorwire garage punk, with the heft of a quartet of distorted guitars roaring out of one small amp & one medium-sized man. The other fellas were spot-on pros, too – so maybe they don’t play out much, but you certainly wouldn’t have known it by watching them. They even killed the assembled multitudes with a couple of NIGHT KINGS tunes: “Death” and “Little Drag” from the find-it-however-you-can-LP “Increasing Our High”. I mean the kids actually dug it (this was a band – Night Kings – suffering from a real lack of hometown goodwill when I interviewed them back in 1992) and acted like they wanted more. So maybe the public palette has finally been whetted by other bands for the unheralded royalty of first-class garage-based, 60s-influenced-but-not-defined punk rock music. I’m hoping for a tidal wave of RIGHT ON cover stories in the months to come – these gentlemen are the real thing & worth traveling north for.