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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Hyped but Behaved Punks Mosh In New Year : Bruising but benign fans filled the Ice House for a show by idealistic Face to Face and irresponsible Guttermouth.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With promoters saying the Ice House still has a future as a venue for punk and alternative rock, two widely contrasting Southern California punk bands and several hundred hyped-up but well-behaved fans convened Saturday to ring out 1994, the year when punk exploded as a commercial force.

Dennis Lluy and Amy Toten, partners in Culture Shock, the company that has been booking punk and alternative rock bands into the Ice House since last summer, said in a pre-show interview that their move to improve security in response to a violence-marred concert on Dec. 16 has won police approval of nine or 10 more shows at the Ice House in January and February.

Police had demanded assurances of better security after that concert, headlined by the Vandals, was plagued by at least two beatings and a nonfatal stabbing. The violence is believed to have been the work of neo-Nazi skinheads.

The New Year’s Eve show was the third punk-alternative concert at the Ice House in four nights, all with yellow-jacketed guards from a newly hired concert security company in place. Lluy and Toten said there had been no problems at any of the shows, the first since the December violence. Entering fans were subjected to pat-down searches, and Lluy said hand-held metal detectors are on order.

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Fans at Saturday night’s show--featuring Face to Face, from Victorville in San Bernardino County, and Huntington Beach-based Guttermouth--engaged in the potentially bruising but relatively benign punk rituals of diving off the stage onto a pile of massed humanity (a practice promoters tried to discourage but were unable to prevent) and doing the human cyclotron dance known as moshing. Otherwise, underage cigarette smoking, spitting on the floor, bad taste in hair dye, and risk of possible harm to a pet (one young woman briefly brought her dog into the show while Guttermouth blared away) were the only apparent lapses in comportment. Police later said no problems were reported.

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The two headlining bands on the early evening bill represented punk at its most idealistic and punk at its most knuckleheaded.

Face to Face spent its set charging time and again into the breach with high-energy anthems about the ethical stakes involved in everyday living. Guttermouth closed the show with the ever-mocking, deliberately obnoxious but not-to-be-taken-seriously stance of the court jester. Working in the acoustically awful Ice House, where bare brick walls almost guarantee a blaring, muddled sound mix that drowns out lyrics, the two bands got their messages across in the broadest ways.

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The seriousness and intensity of Face to Face came through in surging beats, buzz-saw chords and the melodic lift of catchy choruses bolstered by sing-along harmonies behind lead vocalist Trever Keith. On last year’s EP “Over It” and an upcoming album “Big Choice,” Keith dwells on his inner struggles in self-questioning songs that focus on the gap between idealistic aspirations and flawed, frustrating realities.

In concert, Face to Face mainly emphasized affirmative energy as band members bounced, leaped and scissors-kicked their way through a 45-minute set. As if to suggest that punk should be about fun as well as inner struggle, they projected a friendly, easygoing, lightly humorous personality between songs rather than trying to underscore the serious intent of their material.

Introducing “Disconnected,” a song that has gotten play on KROQ, Keith voiced de rigueur punk/alternative reticence about success: “Here’s our famous radio hit. It’s kind of embarrassing.” Enough, already. If a band makes good records, plays good shows and makes sure it gives good value to its fans by keeping prices reasonable, it’s doing its job ethically and needn’t be embarrassed about anything, no matter what carping emerges from cliquish elements within punk who are ready to cry “sellout” at every sign of popularity.

It isn’t embarrassing to echo worthy influences, either, but Keith’s chesty rasp at times can sound awfully reminiscent of either Mike Ness of Social Distortion or Husker Du-era Bob Mould. The similarity points to an area where Face to Face could stand to improve: Its songs will abstractly suggest a theme and a conflict, but never flesh them out with characters, incidents, details or imaginative use of language. Nor do the songs ever depart from musical designs that are strictly storm-the-battlements anthem-rock. The earthy, storyteller’s specificity of Social Distortion and the evocative images Mould often uses don’t come into play. Face to Face’s energy, tunefulness and sincerity are pluses, but young fans of this rising band owe it to themselves to check out its more-accomplished precursors.

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Guttermouth’s theme song should be “Call Me Irresponsible.” Singer Mark Adkins’ long litany of bad-boy behavior included urging fans to spit on those standing aloof from a very active mosh pit fray (they didn’t), castigating “straight edge” punk fans for the sin of abstaining from alcohol (while himself swigging from a beer bottle and spraying part of what he’d imbibed on the fans in front of him) and deriding one of his targets with an anti-gay epithet.

But the point of Guttermouth’s whole existence is to embody the irresponsible, thumb-your-nose-at-everything attitude that is the flip side of Face to Face’s idealism. It’s the jester’s stance and as in Shakespeare, the fool, as a figure not to be taken seriously, is allowed to get away with saying things that other people can’t (although gay-bashing remarks should be out of bounds even for jesters--such epithets, like racist ones, don’t merely mock a person but deny the target’s full humanity).

Of course, with lyrics inaudible, the satire in Guttermouth’s songs was lost on those who didn’t already know the material by heart. But Adkins, decked out in a New Year’s Eve dress-white shirt and black bow tie to go with his sneakers and baggy shorts, made the lighthearted, gutter-sniping intent obvious with the tone of his between-songs sarcasm and wise-guy attempts at rabble-rousing.

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He led by example, taking repeated flops and dives into the audience. Behind him, the other four band members provided good, basic hard-core thrash with a few (though not nearly enough) digressions into ska rhythms or surf riffs to relieve the hard-and-fast sameness.

Adkins sort of made amends for his knocks on the straight-edge and long-hair factions in the house at the end when he announced, amid much profanity, that the only punk subculture he really has contempt for is the Nazi skinhead, white-supremacist faction. Given the events of Dec. 16 when the stabbing victim, by his own account, was set upon for the sin of wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, it’s a point that can’t be made too often.

It led into a rousing, hard-charging set-closer, profanely titled, in which Guttermouth proclaimed that everybody is ridiculous, themselves included. In a silly, backhanded, typically obnoxious way, it actually was an inclusive statement of fellow-feeling. That’s idealism of a sort, isn’t it?

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