Rampage Fest, ft. Dune Rats, Wax Idols, Nü Sensae, Allah-Las, and More @ Sail Inn|3/8/13
The platter of varying delights that is Rampage Fest, a collection of SxSW-bound bands passing through the desert, offered a taste of beach-crashed pop-punk, sonically loyal garage rock, and blistering hardcore. Under normal circumstances, bills like this can soar -- other times, it's the combination of oil, water, and cement. Thankfully, the various contingencies were well represented, even if each one couldn't be perfectly accommodated.
On the pop-punk front, Dune Rats looked like California riff-raff who happened to be from Australia. Easily the most fun act of the night, they played amorphous melodic punk with vocals that were mostly a shimmering mélange of "ooh," "aah," and "woah." The three long-haired stoners headbanged like crazy to such pretty ends, having a contest to see who could hold out a note the longest. The Audacity, a band made up of actual Californians and signed to Burger Records, seemed subdued in comparison, playing an equally hooky brand of mid-tempo pop-punk but with a pinch less conviction. Maybe they were pacing themselves for the industry showcase.
Wax Idols, a bliss-oriented Bay Area psych outfit, had an immaculate presentation that just didn't translate in this particular room. Singer Hether Fortune brought the theatrics, and the rhythm section was focused and taut, but their distorted clamor became dulled into an indistinguishable whorl. It was obvious the live mix wasn't being approached well for such heavy music (too little kick drum, way too much effects-heavy guitar in the house mix). This became very apparent during the hardcore portion of the evening.
Vancouver hardcore trio Nü Sensae play in an elemental, throat-shredding style that overcame the sound problems -- the gymnastic drumming and disorienting song structures managing to pummel forward. Of course, this led to some moshing that quickly knocked over the flimsy bank-branch barricades and flustered the security guard. Sail Inn has a no-moshing policy, meaning insurance will not cover damage from rowdy customers, but there's little stopping that particular kind of audience "appreciation" during a band like Nü Sensae. "We don't need security," singer Andrea Lukic said casually, a little annoyed at the fuss being made over a handful of mostly female moshers. A couple of perfectly tranquil dudes in biker jackets behind me chuckled, "This isn't a mosh pit."
The unease came to an apex when somebody tried to stage dive off the monitors, prompting an attempt by one of the promoters to remove the diver from the building. A minor kerfuffle ensued, the band cut out, and there occurred what a friend of mine aptly referred to as a "cultural misunderstanding." But peace was attained, eventually. Fortune from Wax Idols soothed the fray down below. "Let's all be good to each other," Andrea said from above, casting regrets aside and resuming her screaming.
Problem was, there was little energy left in the room for White Lung, the other rapidly ascending Vancouver hardcore band, and gold-throated singer Mish Way knew it. Again, the mix was dreadful, and her vocals were nowhere to be found. The crowd was motionless; the drummer's crash cymbal flew off the stand after the first song. I could understand the frustration -- theirs is a precision brand of hardcore, with riffage and tempos so tightly wound that any lacking element will kill the overall impact. It was the aural equivalent of using a jackhammer to till posies in the front lawn. "I'm sorry," Way repeated, often crouching on the stage with her hands over her ears. There's definitely going to be some friction as hardcore music gains more real estate in the indie rock sphere.
On a totally different wavelength, soft-focus outfit the Allah-Las closed out the night. Playing the kind of first-wave guitar pop that charmed American teens before Chuck Berry and "Wild Thing" convinced all those nice boys with tidy haircuts to loosen their ties, Allah-Las were charming but smooth. Their ability to re-create the pristine guitar tones and luscious vocal hooks of that era got a number of people bopping around, but I would have been more game for something that mellow earlier in the evening. I've never been much for conversations about lipstick pickups, or side-by-side comparisons of mono and stereo Beatles pressings, but Allah-Las surely left a pleasant ring in everyone's ear on the ride home. Good luck in Texas, everyone. Stay hydrated and don't be sorry.