The crowd for the Jay Reatard/Kim Phuc show this past Monday night at the Brillobox was a little more, how should I say this, meaner than the usual mix of indie kids the Penn Avenue mainstay is used to. A large, enthusiastic crowd, sure, but they had a bit of an edge. It’s a welcome change of pace from some of the more precious crowds I have seen at shows lately. I will say this was probably the direct result of a local concert promoter (and by that I mean OPUS ONE) facilitating the perfect union between a local band and a national tour.
I don’t think any Pittsburgh band could even begin to approach the pure viciousness of a Kim Phuc live show and for all those who have seen Jay Reatard in concert already know how similar their musical philosophies are. Between Jay Reatard’s pocket rock opuses disguised as shotgun blasts of hardcore rage and Kim Phuc’s zombie Stooges swagger, the show, simply put, did not fuck around. It was a heaving sweaty mess of the loudest music ever to come out of the Brillobox’s monitors, deliriously beaming with something too many Pittsburgh bands seem to lack: attitude.
It was the second time I saw Kim Phuc at the Brillobox, the first being their opening gig this summer for The Obits and…(sigh)… can I admit something? Kim Phuc scare the living shit out of me. Their bassist is like eight feet tall and basically pummels anything in his path using one of the heaviest, most distorted bass lines I have ever heard.
Lead singer Rob Headfield usually divides his concert presence between stalking through the crowd like a pissed off bulldog, slowly climbing the 10 foot speaker stack, and wrapping his shining paw around that kitchy little chandelier right above the stage (that detail was from the first Kim Phuc show this summer, this time around the chandelier was conspicuously absent).
The maliciously loud three minute riot that is “Wormwood Star” closed the show and rattled my insides without discretion. As the song ended, I was grinning like an idiot, trying trying to remember the last time I felt my ribcage vibrate that violently.
Jay Reatard is a freak of nature. He music embodies an arena-rock level virtuosity crammed into a 1:30 jerk-off punk blasts. Watching the full frenzy of his live show, I finally realized how tight his compositions were : stop and starts on a dime, insanely precise guitar solos, three-part harmonies, the guy does it all. Even after his entire backing band quit on him a month ago, his new group hasn’t seemed to miss a beat.
The jarring, faster than light combo of “Blood Visions” and “It’s So Easy” opened the show as Jay kept his trademark of launching into the next song milliseconds after the previous had concluded. A transition that was handled with no more than a ‘”It’s So Easy” Let’s go!” shout ushering in the next track. Watch Me Fall standouts “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” and “I’m Watching You” came to life with striking passion, the latter of which actually resembles a thrashing Irish Pub anthem that wouldn’t be out of place at a drunken Dublin wake.
Jay’s confrontational streak, something that has made headlines on numerous occasions, made an appearance as he hurled a couple insults at a slightly over zealous member of the front row, even dedicating the next song as a “fuck you” to the guilty party.
I began to think about the entire show in general, and how the communal aspect of a concert might be an overrated experience. Is it more exciting to be in an adversarial position to the performer? I can’t say. I will say that this show had balls. It was threatening, edgy and confrontational, but also exhilarating and impassioned. Jay Reatard and Kim Phuc weren’t afraid to piss people off and blow them away simultaneously. Isn’t that what rock and roll is all about?