Old-school punk turned up as a cherub Saturday night in West Hollywood. He wore a sly smile and a felt jacket -- blue, for the love of the Germs -- bearing a cheesy insignia and the words "1st Cavalry Division."
But from the moment Matt Caughthran guilefully asked the Stetson-dotted crowd gathered for headliner Hank Williams III at the Roxy, "Who says country and punk can't get along?," you knew the Bronx's 23-year-old vocalist was no innocent.
Caughthran's set-starting howl and 29 minutes of tight, angular rock later, the Bronx, a four-month-old Los Angeles quartet negotiating with major labels, had shown that rebellion knows no uniform.
Of course, Caughthran had shed the jacket by the second number (to reveal a Black Flag T-shirt), but by then he commanded the stage.
Framed by guitarist Joby J. Ford, bassist James Tweedy and drummer Jorma Vic, he absorbed every riff as if it were a body blow and wielded the microphone stand as a 1) weapon, 2) trusty steed and 3) um ... appendage.
If such antics made for good theater, the Bronx's songs also packed a punch, at least until Caughthran had broken two mikes and worn out a third. Both "White Tar," a searing drug warning, and the finger-wagging "Heart Attack American" suggest the Bronx possess a reverential attitude toward their antecedents -- and the good sense to keep them at microphone stand's length.
Williams, the headliner who has been previously reviewed in these pages, stoked the crowd with an hour of beer-soaked country before shifting seamlessly into his edgier material.