In Austin last March, the Black Halos breezed in to Emo's and proceeded to tame an unruly SXSW crowd until the show-me punks were eating out of the Vancouver quintet's mitts, begging for more, and getting it. As the Halos' smeary racket slammed from the stage, acrobatic lead singer Billy Hopeless sneered and spat like the late Stiv Bators dug up for one last dose of sonic reduction; by all accounts, the set was one of the industry fest's high points. One listen to the Halos' second full-length confirms that the band is streamlined, no-bullshit, old-school that's got the right stuff: Dolls, Dead Boys, Stones, Stooges, Radio Birdman, etc. Glammed-up proto-punk, just like your parents used to pogo to. Only L.A.'s Lazy Cowgirls sound more authentic. That's just because the Cowgirls have been doing it a lot longer.
Comprising a frightfully cool set of leather-jacketed, black-trousered players who all looked like they came from auditions for the part of Clem Burke in The Blondie Story, the Black Halos can't miss. They've got attitude to spare. Opening cut "Some Things Never Fall" updates classic Stiff Little Fingers anthemism, all massed power-chord chugalug bolstering Hopeless' charismatic blare. Later, mid-tempo number "50 Bourbon Street" marries a neo-metallic Dictators crunch to a Johnny Thunders-style melancholic melody, with Hopeless once again pulling Stiv outta the casket to toss back a few shots in time for last call. And closing number "No Class Reunion" is the logical heir to Alice Cooper's "School's Out," dripping with fuck-you sentiments and sporting the kind of razor-sharp riffs that inspire air guitarists everywhere.
Throughout this tight, 38-minute set, there's a ruthless efficiency at play always serving the song instead of the players' egos, and this is something that entire generations of would-be "punk rockers" have overlooked in their quests for the perfectly groomed Mohawk. For the Halos, the rhythm section is a study in precision; the guitarists rein in their lead breaks in the interest of color and texture; and freed from unnecessary fussing with the arrangement, Hopeless gargles his Jack, grabs his mike stand and unleashes the kind of charisma you just can't fake. As produced by legendary Seattle boardsman Jack Endino, the Black Halos sound like they were born to do this.
The Black Halos
Nita's Hideaway in Tempe
Scheduled to perform on Saturday, March 10, with Zeke and Nebula. Showtime is 9 p.m.
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Postscript: Just as your humble reporter was sitting down at the PC, the household's latest addition -- a six-week-old baby -- erupted in a jackhammer squall which no diaper change, no NUK pacifier, no cuddling from Dada could squelch. The kid was inconsolable. Resigned to my fate, I cued up the Halos, hoping to sustain a train of thought long enough to do the review. And then the kid's eyes got wide, his head twisted a coupla times, and he clammed up! Okay, so maybe he was shocked into submission. But poetic license instructs me to invoke the phrase "music doth soothe the savage beaste." And in the case of the Black Halos, it surely takes one to know one.