Soft Shoulder, The Pharmacy, Trunk Space, 11/20/12

Soft Shoulder, The Pharmacy, JJCNV, Counterfeit Redcoats @ Trunk Space|11/20/12
When I refer to a band as "bar rock," I am not citing any definition of the term already established in musicological literature, but rather my own frame of reference.

For me, bar rock can be defined in two separate waves, the earlier one being that loud, upbeat, twangy, Americana inspired rock from the early '80s exemplified by songs like "Caught Up in You" by 38 Special and "Hurt So Good" by John Mellencamp. The latter wave is defined by most of The Replacements discography. Bar rock isn't meant some kind of pejorative, it just means that the band evokes for me the kind of music played in either a straight up working class American bar, or a hipster bar with blue-collar kitsch.

Even though I saw them at an art gallery, the Seattle band The Pharmacy channeled the spirit of a dive bar house band. With their scruffy appearance, liberal use of the word "baby" to describe adult love interests in their lyrics, and general upbeat nature, I can easily imagine dancing to this band after I've had one too many PBRs or Old Styles. It makes me regret not actually doing so at the neighboring Bikini Lounge, but I still enjoyed the band. One of my favorite aspects of them was that the Beach Boys/Zombies-ish vocal harmonies that happen on their lo-fi recordings such as Stoned and Alone are not some kind of studio magic, they really sound like that live. This is probably why most people would classify them as "garage rock", but for me they are on the very tasteful end of the bar rock spectrum.

The local support felt a little more urbane than the bar rock I am describing. The opening band, Counterfeit Redcoats, were playing their first show, and with that came some of the first show awkwardness of not quite being together. The lead guitarist's tone, at least in my opinion, didn't seem to fit and it felt in some songs like he was heckling his own band with guitar solos. Still, I could see what they were going for, playing a brand of "doom blues" that sounds like they take equal influence from Black Sabbath and Vampire Weekend, something that is not unreasonable given that they look young enough to be members of the generation that has only known access to all music ever written and would not find any inconsistencies with that, unlike their genre biased elders.

JJCnV (Janis Joplin Crap n' Vomit) playing what was not their first show, were much more together. They kind of have this Dead Milkmen meets Big Black sound where it's kind of silly and poppy and kind of heavy and dark. They yell their song titles at each other before playing them, which is fun, I guess.

The real highlight though, was Soft Shoulder. I haven't seen this band in a while and figured they were on some indefinite hiatus. James Fella's other band, The Mangled Men, were supposed to play, but not all the members could make it, so the slot was devoted to a Soft Shoulder set featuring Fella on guitar and Paul Arambula of Mangled Men/Chandails/Vegetable on drums.

I used to think that Soft Shoulder was boring, that they sounded too much like Silver Daggers and all those other kinds of spazzy, jazzy, Silverlake brand of weird bands that there were plentiful a few years ago. But this incarnation got me. The songs were apparently the same songs as before, but downtuned and about four times as slow.

"Some people do drugs or have sex to have fun. We are just trying minimalism, which is a lot funner than those things." Fella told the sparsely populated venue.

While it's hard to take someone playing through 3 amps and 5 pedals claiming to be minimalistic completely seriously, it did really just come down to two people making a lot of noise between themselves. I like Fella's noise sets because there is a sense of emergent tonality, a bunch of weird and seemingly irrelevant sounds all come together to make something bigger. While this set had more obvious structure (playing actual guitar chords, pretty simple beats with only a bass, snare, and a cymbal), the same kind of emergence was there with every beat and strum and yell feeling calculated, like a precious resource meant to be used to its fullest extent.

It was weird, but not in the hackneyed L.A./Smell scene sense I got from previous incarnations of Soft Shoulder, but in a way that actually felt interesting and really put the talents of the two musicians on display. It's the kind of stuff that some naive and eager reviewer in Maximumrocknroll would describe as "Dark, sun-drenched desert no-wave. Man, Tempe/Phoenix is fucked!" While I am not a reviewer for that publication and generally try to be more eloquent, I have that kind of enthusiasm for this Soft Shoulder lineup.

Overall, it was a good Tuesday night show at the Trunk Space. I mean, the turnout wasn't exactly great, but I am happy to live in a city where I can see a bar rock band at an art gallery.

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