Arts DEVO bleeds noise
We’ll play at your house, crash on your floor/ In the morning we’ll be out the door/ We don’t have time to stick around/ ’cause we gotta plan one every town/ Yeah!—“Owen’s Ghetto Punch,” Track Star
Track Star for a day If you want to understand what makes Arts DEVO tick, you just have to listen to Track Star. The late-1990s San Francisco band used to play Chico every few months back in those days (many of those gigs sharing the stage with bands I played in) and was a fairly popular noise-pop trio on the West Coast during the waning years of the indie-rock renaissance, fitting nicely in the grooves carved by Sebadoh, Archers of Loaf, Pavement, etc. They released a bunch of singles, an EP and a couple of full-lengths during their tenure before calling it quits and moving on to jobs and kids and the rest of life.
I don’t know that I could say any one band is my all-time favorite, but I do know that, since it was released in 1997, I’ve listened to Track Star’s best release, Communication Breaks, more than any other album I own. And it’s not even close.
My favorite dynamic in music is volume, and while I love that punk, metal, rap and hard rock keep things plenty loud, to me, noise is most powerful when it’s in contrast to quiet. If the music is always loud, and you are always loud, and your fashion is always loud, then everything recalibrates and the norm just shifts to that louder plane. So, when you’re at a four-band metal show, the experience can be like staring into the sun and trying to discern levels of brightness. With only subtle volume shifts, the dramatic effect of playing loud is diminished.
And that’s all fine. This is not meant as a criticism of any consistently loud musical style; again, I am a huge fan of all loud music. But when it comes to really experiencing noise, I look for something more—I want contrast. I want to see the spotless pane of glass, then the brick flying through it. I want the earth to suddenly open up and swallow me. I want to be dunked on. I want to be uprooted. Then I want to go back to the beginning, return to calmness, and anticipate the next rogue wave.
This is what Track Star does, in a primitively perfect way that strikes a chord with me. They’re kind of like the Ramones of noise-pop—taking basic pop-song constructions and repurposing them to meet their sonic needs. Where the Ramones stole the 1960s bubble-gum pop format, turned up their Marshall stacks and ingeniously inserted sneering lyrics about sniffing glue, Track Star punctuated three-chord break-up songs and jangly indie-pop with glorious jumps in volume via Who-sized Hiwatt amps. It isn’t The Pixies quiet-loud songcraft. It’s fun, and funny and “fuck it, let’s get loud right … NOW!”
This Friday night (Sept. 19), Track Star will be playing a one-off reunion show at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, and yes, Mrs. DEVO and I will be right up front getting really high on nostalgia along with all the other middle-agers, most staying up way past their current Friday-night bed times. But it’ll be more than just nostalgia. When the first chorus arrives and Wyatt and Matt’s feet come down on their stomp boxes, the effect will be that much more dramatic as bleary eyes are blown open and creaky knees forced into bending and swaying to a beautiful noise that is still more impressive to me than the most brutal 30 minutes of punishment from any current heavy crew. But that’s just me … to a T.
• Vinyl & CD sale: On Saturday, Sept. 20, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., at the Chico Women’s Club, North State Public Radio, KCHO (91.7 FM) will be carting out a ton of used classical, jazz, comedy and blues albums from its library and selling them to raise money for the station. There’ll also be a parade of great live music throughout the day provided by Robin Bacior, Pat Hull, The Amblers, Broken Rodeo and many more.