(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Concert review: New York Rifles with Pep*Squad and Tarantula Tango

Saturday, 20 July 2013 (Road 34, Ft. Collins CO)

It's a small world. Jamie Gould, the bass player for New York Rifles, invited me to catch them at Road 34. It wasn't until we talked before the show that I found out this Portland band has a Ft. Collins connection. Drummer Nate James used to play with Sex Glove, a cool local band I haven't seen for four years (reviews).

This thrashy noise-punk group out of San Francisco coaxed a lot of volume and stage presence from a fairly stripped down setup and two musicians. Unlike a lot of duos, thy mixed it up, alternating the lineup between drums/bass and drums/keys. The band's Facebook profile talks about coming out of the basement party scene, which shows in the intimacy of their set.

Cade, the drummer, was the linchpin of the band's sound. His fills had a good sense of controlled flail, but stayed right on time, even as the arrangements grew chaotic. His partner, Caroline, switched between the bass and keyboards. The bass songs had a stronger punk vibe, while her keyboard playing often set out for more experimental and strange destinations.

By the time they got to their surf-party deconstruction ("Surf's Up"?), their sense of humor was in full gear and they were pushing boundaries. Kinky stream of consciousness interludes were punctuated by spasms of pounding noise rock, giving the tune a primitive performance art feel. To some extent, their set was geared towards seeing how harsh and random they could get while still having fun and nominally calling their act music. It was a small crowd of mostly fellow musicians, but Tarantula Tango held the stage well.

Pep*Squad set a low bar as they took the stage, "We're Pep*Squad and we're completely unprepared for this set." They immediately gave lie to this as they kicked into a smoking cover of The Rapture's "Echoes". Like a dimensional shift, the room immediately fell under their high-energy, danceable punk spell. This was limbic system fun at its finest: emotionally compelling and memorable.

They followed up with crazy medley of songs I never thought I'd hear together, starting off with U2's "With or Without You", passing through "Girls" by the Beastie Bous, and winding up with R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World." There was no doubt in my mind that they felt fine.

Pep*Squad effortlessly bounced from new wave attitude to Krautrock cool and all the while, the beat kept the dance floor hot. I particularly liked their lead singer, Brett. He was charismatic with a vocal range that could drop from a post-punk yip down to a rough growl. The band may have been completely unprepared, but they pulled a party out of somewhere for their set.

Well before their show, I dropped by New York Rifles' Soundcloud page to get a taste. I liked their noisy, driving rock sound. Their lead singer, Scott Young, had a distinctive reedy voice with equal measures of AC/DC's Bon Scot and Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys). If Pep*Squad was all fun and games, New York Rifles had more serious aims.

With a thick wall of distorted guitar, they tore into their set with punk psychedelic intensity. If I had ever wondered what Country Joe and the Fish might have sounded like as a hardcore band, now I had a decent idea. The trio cultivated a deep, dark sound, anchored by Gould's pounding gut-punch bass line. The drums did their part to kick up the aggro to support the wailing vocals. Even if Young never touched his guitar strings, it would have been a powerful rite of musical mayhem.

But he was all too happy to throw down doom-filled punk themes and howling feedback assaults, punctuated by sneering asides and hoarse hollers. His stage persona was hypnotic and dangerous as he threw himself into the music, singing wild-eyed. The band's  heavy, cathartic sound owed a big debt to countless hardcore bands, but New York Rifles stretched out from that base to incorporate a looser jam structure that fit well with their dynamic stage work.

The tight, punchy set was over all too soon, leaving just ringing ears and sweaty skin.

More photos on my Flickr.


  1. Nice review. Wish i could have been there.

  2. Cathie Joy Young is that you?

  3. Thanks I used this review in my FB to provide some background to the evening. Appreciated the pics and descriptives you put up!