Dance Gavin Dance and Sacramento post-hardcore

Less aggression, better hair

Dance Gavin Dance: The area’s best hardcore lite, but you need two vocalists and a MySpace cheat sheet to understand what the hell they’re singing.

Dance Gavin Dance: The area’s best hardcore lite, but you need two vocalists and a MySpace cheat sheet to understand what the hell they’re singing.

Photo By Nick Miller

I’m at my brother’s place roughhousing with a pit bull. People say they’re a dangerous breed, but Gouda—the dog currently gnawing on my left arm—must be some kind of post-pit bull. She’s playful. Feverish. Mildly aggressive (a puppy!). But harmless.

Some Sacramento hardcore has gone the way of Gouda the pit bull: Softer. Gentler. Radio-friendly. The ladies like this new hardcore. In fact, there are more girls than dudes later in the evening at The Boardwalk, featuring a Thursday night five-band bill that’s a veritable post-hardcore extravaganza. Meaningful, but still hard-up; emotional, but in-your-face.

I’m in the back parking lot looking for the headliners, local act Dance Gavin Dance. There are five club wagon-type vans, each towing trailers, crammed into a small loading area. All five of tonight’s bands—including Secret and Whisper from Canada—will leave in the next couple days for a month-long U.S. tour, which DGD will headline. They’ll spend more on gas money than they ever would on gear, for sure. And undoubtedly it’ll be money from their own pockets, not the coffers of a major label, that will keep the tanks full. There’s a lot of love on the stage tonight; nobody’s making any money.

I don’t find DGD, so I badger the Canadians, who are smoking and taking it all in. They hail from a town four hours east of Vancouver. They’re joking with some dude about a crazy reporter from public-access TV who just interviewed them—“crazy American.” They’re not laughing about having to drive to Fresno at the night’s end. One of the guys looks like a 20-year-old, white Flavor Flav; sporting a funky hat and a three-sizes-too-big yellow T-shirt. Not your typical hardcore, indeed.

Inside, Eric Rushing, who books The Boardwalk and runs 720 Records, is chilling at the bar with friends. He’s the first guy in Sac I’ve ever seen wearing Tampa Bay Rays hat. In fact, the Rays are kind of analogous to post-hardcore: Take the devil out of Tampa, and you’ve got a winning team. Take the threat out of hardcore, and you’ve got the 250-some people at tonight’s all-ages show. You’ve got top-100 music. You’ve got Fall Out Boy. And so on.

Either way, DGD put on an energetic, fun show.

Hip-hop’s the house music of choice while the band sets up (Timbaland, if you must know). DGD is built in the Linkin Park mold: one vocalist who screams, one vocalist who sings. There’s no rapping—phew—and no programming or electronics. The screaming lead singer is Kurt Travis, a young guy who was likely raised on a steady diet of Far and Deftones. DGD’s set begins, and he’s all over the place: bouncing across the stage, falling into the crowd, head-banging. Reminiscent of Jonah Matranga during Far’s early shows at the Cattle Club, he’s relentless, energized.

Travis is a screamer, yes, but there’s also depth to his gnarly, throaty blasts. He’s a baritone with the range of more than an octave—a post-hardcore rarity. The band sings a new song, “Me and Zoloft Get Along Fine,” and the crowd joins in. “You’ve been on our MySpace page. You already know these songs!” Travis exclaims. The crowd goes nuts. I seem to remember knowing bands’ new lyrics back in “the day” (pre-Internet—when was that?), but oh well.

I do some MySpacing of my own after the show. DGD’s got a new album, their second release of the year, which drops in August. Called The Death Star Album, they’re definitely going to have to find a new title. Regardless, they’re tight, polished, well-rehearsed, and they’re adored by their fans; the Deftones’ Chino Moreno will appear on next month’s release.

But when it’s all said and done, is this what hardcore should be, in 2008, more than 10 years after Refused’s seminal The Shape of Punk to Come? On that album, the Scandinavian four-piece fused ’80s punk, metal and straight-up hardcore with electronica and synths to great effect. Listen to hardcore these days and it’s all well and fine, but you miss the streetwise edge. The danger. The threat of, well, maybe having your arm bitten off.

But at least the ladies dig it.