Night of the living punks
The Distillers prove punk is alive and feeding off corpses
For those of us who are no longer on the automatic-invite list for underground punk shows taking place in basements and garages around town, the opportunities for seeing a real live punk band onstage are increasingly rare.
The three-band line-up on Tuesday’s bill promised an evening’s worth of high-energy punk rock, and San Jose’s The Cliftons kicked things off in fine style. Playing a pleasantly abrasive fusion of Sex Pistols-style old-school punk and So-cal hardcore, The Cliftons were fronted by a pouty looking young man in an abbreviated page boy haircut who would occasionally thrust his hand down the front of his jeans and poke his fingers out through the open fly. And he threw himself on the stage and briefly writhed around like Iggy Pop, so I cast a vote in favor of The Cliftons.
Next up, The Frisk delivered a blast of slightly frat-flavored punk, and I’m pretty sure the pair of girls I saw “moshing” with their arms around each other’s shoulders like kids on a playground would agree they rocked.
Soon, the swelling crowd’s enthusiasm was resoundingly paid off when the lights were killed then brought up to gleam off of the massive pearl-and-brass drum set that dominated center stage as headliners The Distillers took the stage.
Lead singer and guitarist Brody Armstrong, dressed in a bare-midriff mohair sweater and super-low-cut patchwork plaid jeans, looked every inch the embodiment of Sid Vicious’ fashion legacy, with jet-black hair, troweled-on mascara and enough tattoos and visible piercings to shock Granny if Granny doesn’t get out much these days. And her vocal timbre, coupled with proficient rhythm guitar pummeling and an insouciant swagger, immediately evoked the Courtney Love comparisons that pepper the band’s press clippings. She sounds just like Love, too, especially when her vocals reach a full, shredded-throat roar.
The other Distillers, Ryan on bass and Andy on drums, provided a hyperkinetic backdrop for Armstrong’s sinewy punk anthems, but at times it sounded like the drummer was displaying his immaculate chops with little regard for whether they were properly syncopated with Ryan’s bass runs.
Moshers and crowd surfers abounded throughout the set, and by the time the show ended in an amplifier-humping blaze of guitar feedback from Armstrong, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that punk is indeed not dead, even if it does survive by feeding off the corpses of the past.