SuperRad triple bill at West Asheville’s The Mothlight the other night. There’s a lot to love about that venue: its location’s convenient for any WAVL resident, and there’s plenty of parking across the street for out- or other-side- of-towners, drink selection (for those of us who partake) is on-point, friendly staff, great sound (for the most part), and shows actually start on time. There is one criticism that I overheard several times though, and I’ll echo it here: non-gender-neutral restrooms are divisive/triggering for patrons who are gender non-conforming. I feel as though the Mothlight is a safe space for all, and that the venue would encourage anyone to choose the restroom they feel comfortable in. However, people who don’t identify by binaries, who are fluid or unassigned, are forced to make an extremely uncomfortable choice based on social norms, and the severity of these choices, particularly in the state of NC, cuts very deep. Offering a unisex or neutral option (or ridding both restrooms of binary segregation) would promote equal usage. A show review may not seem like an appropriate space to evoke gender politics (seriously tho, f*** appropriateness; when things are the least comfortable, it’s the MOST appropriate space to confront an issue), but it’s also an apt segue.
I was unfamiliar with Cloudgayzer, other than they’re local and a friend of a friend plays in the band. They’d set up in front of the stage, which an AshevilleFM colleague said was Cloudgayzer’s M.O., a minimal drum kit, a couple amps. And I was actually in the restroom when the amps turned on, the drums whipped up, and the vocalist started shouting. I was like WHAAAAAT?!?!, washed my hands, ran into the main room, stopped stage-left and watched in awe. YAASSS! I needs this in my life! Cloudgayzer is tough AF, neck-snap hardcore that you can totally sink teeth into. Not without its share of noise and cacophony, balanced with memorable hooks and breakdowns, their musicality feels effortless even at whiplash speed. The vocals are intensely personal, a purge of anxiety and social commentary. Some might say confrontational (as hardcore tends to be), however, given the songs’ intros of subject matters, delivered with the band’s savage energy, it comes across as cathartic therapy and clarion call for solidarity through shared struggle. I was a bit bummed they had no merch, but I’m pretty sure they provided the free vegan donuts at the merch table. They do, however, have a couple songs online (cloudgayzer.bandcamp.com), which I found and downloaded first thing the following morning, and I hear they’re getting ready to record their next batch of songs very soon. Stay woke.
Second up was Sneaks, whom I’d been itching to see since Merge dropped their EP/demo Gymnastics last year. Sneaks define DIY minimalism and punk attitude with bare bones bass guitar, simple but not-so-basic beats, and Eva Moolchan’s deadpan vocal delivery. Maybe “deanpan”‘s a disservice; on record they sound dry and unaffected but live you definitely feel their sly groove. A lot of press and interviews have tried to dissect Eva’s lyrics, which saunter thru the music in clusters of observations and non-sequiters. One journalist even stooped to liken them to magnet poetry, which I mention only as an extreme example of Not Getting It rather than Agreement. Why try to unpack something that’s intended for fun? It’s totally unsuperficial; Sneaks certainly has something to say. But if it’s indirect or unspecific, maybe it’s for them to know and you (not?) to find out, then get over yr damn self and just enjoy a good time, y’know? The set opened with “True Killer” off Gymastics, a tune that gets caught in my head at least once a week, and featured mostly new material from the upcoming It’s a Myth EP out early April. New songs like “Inside Edition,” “Look Like That,” “Not My Combination,” and “Hair Slick Back,” are instantly charming and up the ante just a tweak from earlier material with more assertive basslines and a bit more backbone to the beats. While some songs clock in at an epic 2 to 3 minutes, rather than the strict no-more-than-90-seconds of the previous work, they always strut, never get sodden. On stage they’re a fun duo to watch. Moolchan put the bass down only once, and the DJ had a blast. I was especially impressed that, with all the gear at the DJ station, they really could’ve taken the backdrops to infinite places, and did play around a bit with peripheral inflection, but stayed true to the minimal Sneaks aesthetic. And yeah, we dropped some loot on merch. In three separate visits to the table, my partner picked up a tape and a t-shirt, their roommate a t-shirt, and myself a shirt and vinyl copy of Myth. Though there were three colors to choose from, we all, without coordination, copped pink. We bout to be a serious pink Sneaks posse. Word up.
Headliners Downtown Boyz summed up the openers really well. High energy punk rock that somehow, simultaneously, gives No S****s and All The F***s. I really wanna avoid cross-reference cuz I feel that kinda robs a band of their singular identity, but throughout their set I was reminded of the dual vocal delivery and manic raucousness of early X but with more acute punk guitarwork than X’s rockabilly crutch. I couldn’t make out many of the lyrics but perhaps that’s because I was standing close to the stage rather than mid-room where the mix was probably better. I definitely felt where they were coming from, though. In between songs the vocalist talked about divestment from cis-white supremacy, and in support of gender equality and ethnic/global egalitarianism. I also couldn’t hear the sax/synth at all, they were stationed stage-right opposite where I was, but enjoyed watching them jump, writhe and wiggle. But it speaks volumes to Downtown Boyz’s tightness as a band that, even if their stage mix lacked a little, they still Brought It and had the floor moving front to back. Solid.
Prior to the Oathbreaker show a couple days earlier, it had been a minute since I’d seen live music. Good shows have been around, but I’d been hibernating through the winter. But Spring is finally here, the upcoming lineups around town are getting better, and I look forward to a killer 2017 for quality shows in Asheville. Stay tuned!
Thank you to: the bands, Shil at TigerBomb Promo, the Mothlight, whoever brought the donuts, and AshevilleFM.
Donovan Quixote, By All Means Necessary, March 2017