"I hope I look as good as I feel," said White Lung lead singer Mish Way during the Vancouver punk band's quick, hot set at Los Globos in Echo Park. Aglow in red light, with a born-to-be-here demeanor and in the middle of a maelstrom of hardcore distortion, Way was indeed luminous, lost within a moment when everything but the creative impulse and spirit vanishes beneath big, loud energy.
And it wasn't just her natural charisma — though there was that. In such intensely inspired musical moments, even an Elephant Man can shine like Mr. Universe.
British post-punk band the Mekons called it "that secret place where we all want to go — rock and roll." For about 45 wild minutes on Wednesday, a few hundred people converged in a loose scrum and were transported, bouncing and bumping while keeping warm by the heat of White Lung guitarist Kenneth William's frantic, wiry lines and Way, as vicious and confident a howler as you'll find right now.
Within the first quick seconds of their set, during White Lung's breakout song "Drown With the Monster," the singer was already battling dangerous energies and singing of abysses involving either addiction, love or both, of a body suffering from "redneck disease" that "weakens my knees/ And I am gutted/ Down to the floor/ I rode the monster/ He wanted more."
That song opens White Lung's explosive new album, "Deep Fantasy," and over the course of playing most of it during the band's gig, Way, William, drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou and touring bassist Hether Fortune proved itself a raw delivery system that drew on a lineage stretching to the '80s (and before), when a lost generation of North American kids transformed British punk rock into suburban hardcore.
With its "loud, fast rules" mantra, hardcore seemed to die as quickly as it was born but fueled the rise of a herd of bands, the most prominent from the Pacific Northwest, who'd go on to dominate rock in the '90s: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, the Gits and Hole among them.
In the past few years that spark has reignited through young bands like Perfect Pussy, Metz, FIDLAR, Audacity and Lung's fellow Canadian band … Up (whose moniker contains an unmentionable cuss word). All use as a starting point the fury of hardcore but dent it with the force of their personalities until it's a whole other beast.
Way sure made a dent.
She was Lux Interior yowling into the mike during "Sycophant." She was a less screechy Karen O. She was Poly Styrene, Jello Biafra, Kathleen Hanna, Beth Ditto — but also none of them. She yowled like Courtney before Kurt — or Kurt before Courtney.
Early in the set, just before moving in to "Face Down" — "Ugly dies face down!" — Way asked that the lighting guy cut it with the strobes already — and they were gone. From then on, she sang within what seemed to be a photographic darkroom while to her right, nearly invisible, William strangled his wrenching instrument.
As Way screamed during "Wrong Star," her arms and neck tensed like she was being electrocuted, a mass of tight tendons and wild eyes. "We belong in the tar," she declared in an unearthly wail, emotion boiling over: "Throwing pennies, burning light into scars."
It was a fury springing from nothing, coming to a head before our very eyes.
Punk rock should be played loud and make your ears ring. It should leave you exuberant, feeling like something honest just happened. Any number of eardrums present at Los Globos that night are still buzzing from White Lung's gig a day later. It was a small price to pay.