Ever since its genesis with Chuck Berry and Elvis, the rock formula has consisted of three parts fun and one part danger. Proto-punkers like the MC5 and The Stooges gradually shifted the ratio a bit, but somewhere down the line, the guitar-based offspring of blues, rock 'n' roll, and punk got it in its mind that outright joy had no place in music (looking at you, ponderous proggers and mathletes).
Seth Bogart, the flamboyant frontman best known as Hunx, harks back to the original recipe: three parts fun, one part debauched stage insanity, lather, rinse, repeat (and as a professional hairdresser, he knows that last part well).
Bogart, who was born in Tucson, has been playing his freaky '50s revival rock since 2007 with his Oakland-based outfit Hunx and His Punx. The group has gone through a few lineup changes (most notably, his all-female backing band iteration called Hunx and his Punkettes), but the sock-hopping guitar chords and doo-wop vocals have remained the same.
As a gay-fronted punk band, Hunx and his Punx would seem like an outlier. Even in the Bay Area itself, independent Oakland plays as a faster, dirtier cousin to San Francisco and its renowned psychedelic history. While lo-fi songwriting wizard Ty Segall and prolific scuzz-rock marathoners Thee Oh Sees shred bluesy psych trails on the S.F. side of the Bay Bridge, Oakland maintains its adherence to theatrically fearless first-wave rock 'n' roll.
In fact, Hunx will be employing a number of Oakland's most notorious rockers to back him up on his current tour. Bassist Shannon Shaw fronts her own trio, Shannon and the Clams, which plays a lovelorn brand of up-tempo surf rock. And on guitar is Justin Champlin (also of Tucsonan lineage), the buck-toothed face of trashy rock ingrates Nobunny.
Like Bogart, Champlin likes to own the stage in his own way. When in his Nobunny character (a sweaty bunny mask on always, pants off sometimes), Champlin yelps stupidly infectious rock 'n' roll songs about mean girls and getting wasted while wiggling and wailing in a pair of red and white undies.
Not to be outdone, Hunx prefers sloppy makeup, ridiculously over-the-top costumes, and a stage motif built like a demented hair salon. His newest album, Hairdresser Blues, is rife with gossipy strummers like "Private Room," a major key hand-clapper about gay men hooking up inside secluded rock formations beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
Not everything is glitter and hairspray in the land of Hunx, however. Bogart decided to approach the new songs as a solo effort, sans any Punx, because some of the material was so emotionally raw.
Recorded by Ivan Julian of the Voidoids, the album at times takes on two significant deaths in Bogart's life: His father when he was 17 (by suicide) and Memphis punk legend Jay Reatard in 2008 (by accidental drug overdose).
"Say Goodbye Before You Leave" is dedicated to Reatard, who took Bogart on tour and made him a fast friend. Just as Jay's star was rising in the indie rock realm, he was found dead at his home in Memphis.
On the website of Hunx's label, Hardly Art, he said the track was about the good times he had with the singer, sharing crazy late-night phone calls and tour antics despite the sadness the troubled Reatard was facing. "He took me on tour, I think, partly cuz he wanted my flamboyant punk band to freak out his hetero-dominated audience."
Unlike punks of the past, Hunx doesn't challenge hetero-normative thought through confrontation. The wigs, the lipstick, the bared flesh — it doesn't scream, "Fuck you!" It playfully coos, "What are you afraid of?" It's just rock 'n' roll, for God's sake. The only ones looking like fools are those too square to let themselves into the party.