If the last post-punk craze, in the first half of this decade, was steeped in acts like Joy Division and Josef K, then their headier cousins—Wire, Minutemen—fascinate the current crop of bands blending the forward-thinking and the visceral, many of whom are staples of Los Angeles’ all-ages venue The Smell.
None of this name-dropping is to suggest that Abe Vigoda—who played to a half-full DC9 last night; presumably, the absent audience was busy lining up for Harry Potter—is unoriginal. Far from it: This L.A. quartet makes inventively structured, hyperbolic noise pop whose texture and frenzy skirts easy labeling. (If forced, though, I’d place Abe Vigoda more in the company of cross-pollinated experimental acts like Ponytail or Gang Gang Dance than the minimalistic Smell mainstays No Age, its most frequent comparison.)
In concert, Abe Vigoda Abe Vigoda emphasized the latter half of its art-fuzz arrangement, drenching its chromatic accoutrements, polyrhythms and mathy tangents in a wall of feedback and delay—an effect more cathartic than cerebral. Yet the appreciative but staid audience nodded more like it was observing a particularly incisive lecture than losing it to a holy-rolling sermon. When guitarists Michael Vidal and Juan Velazquez encouraged the crowd to dance, only a few members complied. Following the show, a friend pointed out that Abe Vigoda’s songs are much smarter than the band thinks they are. Exactly right.
The band drew mostly from last year’s careening, quite good Skeleton, and somewhat less, as far as I recognized, from their recent, less curious Reviver EP. Good thing, too: Abe Vigoda clearly has more to say about the hipsterized Afro-pop that’s lit up best-of lists in recent years than it has so far committed to tape. The best moments last night—”Dead City/Waste Wilderness,” “Bear Face,” Skeleton‘s title track—were syncopated, exuberant and jerky. Less often, songs simply suffocated beneath all the noise.
Opener Talbot Tagora, a trio from Seattle, produced a similarly murky sound, but its songs—suggesting the brat punk of Jay Reatard, the no-fi of Times New Viking and the brown-acid menace of 13th Floor Elevators—were generally strong enough to penetrate it. Like their friends in Abe Vigoda, the members of Talbot Tagora have little interest in traditional song structures, favoring lean counterintuition. Riffs often flew off in unexpected directions without wandering too far; throughout, the shortest songs seemed to sport the most ideas.
There was a studiousness to both bands that’s rare in such assaultive sonic territory; art punkers are rarely so introverted, or so subtle. Then again, who said smart music should be obvious?