Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Violent music for violent times


Last time I saw The Icarus Line, at the same venue in September 2002, they were playing as part of a Buddyhead* love-in with The Dillinger Escape Plan. On that occasion the first band on were fellow Buddyhead fuckups Shat, who featured two men in nappies and a vocalist with an array of prosthetic penises all over himself, and who played delightful little ultra-non-PC ditties called things like 'Gonorrhoea Fountain' and 'Nothing Would Be Finer Than To Lick Your Mom's Vagina'. This time it's a bit more sensible and restrained: support act Modey Lemon are introduced by a white guy with a huge beard wearing a turban, aviator shades and a fake gold dollar chain round his neck, who bangs a small gong while proclaiming: "Music is the sound that cleanses your pores".

The band themselves are a noisy threesome from Pittsburgh, but who are seemingly all over the map in musical terms. As soon as I think I've got a handle on what it is they do, something else seems to tumble into the mix - The MC5, Mudhoney, Motorhead... To call it deranged punk blues doesn't do it justice. There's none of the "look how fucking authentic we are!"-ness that sometimes grates with bands like The Black Keys, just stomping songs like 'Tongues (Everyone's Got One)' and another which shamelessly steals the vocal line from Black Sabbath's 'War Pigs'. With two guitars, buzzing keyboards and thumping drums (but no bass), they make an occasionally awesome racket and do enough to convince me that it might be a good idea to invest in Thunder + Lightning, their full-length debut for Mute, which surfaces on 17th May.

The Icarus Line, a dead-eyed Peel-endorsed fivepiece from LA, have just recently inked a major label deal with V2, though just how the label think they're going to reap a significant financial return on their investment is anyone's guess. The Icarus Line are hardly a commercial proposition, and you can be pretty certain they ain't gonna play corporate ball.

The opening of the set is rather low-key, though. They aren't in the familiar Red And Black Attack uniform (black shirts, red ties, red eye make-up) this time, and perhaps this contributes to the impression that the assault isn't as focused as it might be from the start. 'Caviar' grinds the set into gear, but it doesn't quite strike the right note and for the first ten minutes it's a bit ragged, even for a band as notoriously loose as The Icarus Line. But then new(ish) member Don Devore cranks into the fuck-ugly bassline to 'Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers', a recent single and the first track on their V2 debut Penance Soiree (released today), and the neck-snapping begins.

As with Modey Lemon, it's quite hard to say exactly what it is that The Icarus Line do. There's clearly a debt to The Stooges musically, attitudinally and also aesthetically (singer Joe Cardamone rocks the Iggy look hard) , but, rather than approaching Fun House et al with the cocksure swagger of light-fingered distressed-denim-clad fuckwits like Jet, they rip that sound a new arsehole thanks to an acquaintance with The Birthday Party, Black Flag, The Jesus Lizard and the sort of post-hardcore bands that have never made it to pin-up status. As Travis Keller** says in his band biography: "The Icarus Line?s sound isn?t one of a punk band in the classic sense, yet at times it feels like they are the only punk band left. You might say their ethos, sense of integrity, confrontational nature of their performances, and their belief in what they do is very punk rock. They sound like what dangerous rock music should sound like in 2004, and are here to fill the void created by nu-metal, mall-emo, jock-punk, frat guy rock, and teeny-weenie bopper dance music". I'm not quite sure what it is that appeals to me - they're obnoxious, messy, graceless and not particularly talented. It must be something to do with the primal quality of their music, and their antipathy towards, amongst other things, everything that attempts to pass itself off as "punk" - plus, of course, the fact that they rock.

There's little evidence in tonight's set of their seedier and sinister stoner side (stuff like 'You Make Me Nervous' from their last LP, the ferocious Mono), but we do get the brilliant single 'Feed A Cat To Your Cobra' (#7 in SWSL's Singles of 2002, dontcha know) and plenty of highlights from their latest offering: 'Seasick', 'On The Lash' and the single 'Party The Baby Off', during which band nutjob and Buddyhead co-founder Aaron North, sporting black 'Mask Of Zorro' eye make-up, walks along the bar and sprays Coke out of the soft drinks nozzle all over his guitar. All relatively tame behaviour by the high standards of a man who, when the band were playing in a Hard Rock Cafe at Austin's South By South West festival a couple of years ago, used a microphone stand to smash a glass case containing local hero Stevie Ray Vaughn's guitar, tried to plug it in before fleeing the clutches of security and subsequently received a number of death threats from incensed Vaughn fans - kinda like Ozzy pissing on the Alamo, really. That said, tonight North does also swing on the lighting rig, threatening to bring it down, and plays half a song whilst stood on his head against the wall behind one of the amps. It's all quite enough to make their tour manager have kittens - he's easy to spot, an officious-looking bloke in a smart ironed shirt who's obviously come as part of the V2 "package" and who's blatantly shitting himself every time North finds a new source of amusement.

There's no encore - bless 'em, they probably haven't got anything left. Needless to say, Penance Soiree is at the top of my shopping list.

*For the uninitiated, and for those who aren't faint of heart, Buddyhead is a treasure trove for juicy snippets of gossip, satirical made-up interviews with members of The Strokes, venomously foul-mouthed opinion and some of the most cuttingly dismissive and downright nasty reviews you could ever hope to read.

** It was Travis Keller, incidentally, who got The Icarus Line into an unsavoury spat with Fred Durst, after stealing one of The Limp One's red caps and auctioning it for charity without his knowledge or permission.

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