Lackluster, Newish Star, Secret Tombs, Laughing Man

At The Chill Factory
11/19/15
By James Doubek

When the legendary Seth Feinberg asked me to review this show I was intrigued. I was already planning to attend, but hadn’t written a show review in about four years. Seth’s promise of 25% of this blog post’s proceeds sealed the deal.

The show was at the Chill Factory, a longtime D.C. punk residence and practice space on 13th Street, in a neighborhood apparently called 16th Street Heights. It is not a regular performance venue. I’ve heard about incidents involving the neighbors, which is probably a primary reason why shows there are a rarity.

The punk scene has lately suffered from a distinct lack of house venues.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s an abundance of DIY house venues. But not punk houses, where punks live and host shows that feature punk and hardcore punk music. We have lots of indie and experimental house shows, and occasionally they will throw a punk band on the bill. But since the demise of the Rocketship, the punk scene has been at a loss.

The show was advertised as beginning at 6:30 and ending by 9:30. There were only a few people there when I arrived (around 6:45), but attendees slowly filtered in.

The show cost a whopping $7 (or less than the cost of one drink on U Street), specifically because two of the bands playing were on tour.

One of the people I spoke with felt that house shows should not cost more than $5. I recently had a similar discussion with a friend who felt the same way.

Let’s talk about this for a second. Critics point to the fact that the overhead of house shows is low. The sound quality is usually poor. There is no readily available bar. They say they’re willing to pay eight or 10 dollars to see a band at the Black Cat because professional venues are cleaner, bigger, and you can hear everything clearly.

I respectfully disagree with this line of thinking. While it’s true that the quality of house venues varies, I value the intimacy of house shows.

Equally importantly, I think one should be paying more for the value of the performers than for the value of the venue.

Besides, inflation seems to not have affected the price of DIY punk shows the same way that it has infiltrated the rest of the economy.

There exists evidence of $2 shows in the ’80; there are lots of examples of $3 shows from that period; and there were also shows that cost $5 back then.

In 1982 dollars, $2 is about $5 today, $3 is about $7.40, and $5 is more than $12!

So, most of the DIY shows of yesteryear cost more than the standard $5 expectation in 2015.

To be fair, most the examples I’m providing are from the Wilson Center, not houses. But the sound quality, lack of a bar (with the option to BYOB, this becomes less of an issue), and DIY ethos was the same as at a house show.

Anyway, what’s a measly two or three bucks extra to help a touring band? Gas is more expensive and nobody buys music anymore, so bands depend more than ever on the money they get from the door.

While I was waiting for the show to begin, I was treated to a discussion of Morrissey and his autobiography. One person described him as a “smug racist.” I’m kind of perplexed as to why “the Mo” is so popular among fans of punk music. I’ve heard the Smiths and have even given them my best listen, but I just don’t like his voice, though I appreciate the sentiments expressed by some of his lyrics.

Such considerations were pushed to the background when the evening’s first band, Laughing Man, began shortly before 8 p.m. I’ve heard allegations that this band is influenced by jazz, but I wouldn’t say that’s the case.

The lights go out. The effects pedals go on. The drummer is playing an impressive and driving beat, while the guitar and bass amps are awash in noise. Laughing Man’s music can be heavy at times, but it’s very groove-based. It’s spacey punk with a touch of noise and experimentalism.

This was my first time seeing them in several years, and I definitely appreciate them more in 2015. Their final song stuck out for me; it had a great mix of time signatures and accents. All three members put musical talent on display.

I think of this band as approaching punk from the outside in. Some bands grow up within the punk scene and then try to experiment within its confines. I suspect that Laughing Man stamps their take on this style from a greater distance, though with a certain familiarity. All of the members of this band play in other projects, in different genres, and Laughing Man is a great convergence.

Laughing Man is a band’s band. Their greatest appreciators may be those who have a well-developed understanding of music.

Secret Tombs, on tour from Pittsburgh, was the soiree’s second band. This band had a lighthearted demeanor. The singer spoke between songs and made jokes.

They began with a heavy, power-chord-based song with a fairly straightforward chord progression. But the opening song quickly proved to be an outlier. The guitar parts were very riff-oriented – single-note melodies – and the vocals were the most audible of any of the bands of the night. The bass player threw in some great noodles here and there as well.

It’s hard to describe this band, but perhaps calling them “pop-punk with a hint of old rock ’n’ roll” will just about sum them up. Others mentioned that this band covered Dead Moon and had a Dead Moon influence, but DM is a band I’m sorry to admit I know very little about.

My favorite part of this set was watching the drummer. His ability was quickly obvious and he drew my attention. He had a determined look on his face, hit really hard, and threw in odd and unexpected beats on occasion.

They did a Motorhead cover, too. I don’t have a strong opinion about Motorhead.

Overall, this band was very good.

The other touring band played next. Newish Star, from Buffalo, were billed as power-pop. I would describe their music as driving, heavy pop-punk.

The thing about this band that stood out the most was the frequent sections where everything stopped except the guitar and the vocals, before the rest of the band came crashing back in at the appropriate moment. These song elements can be particularly effective live, when so much of any band’s music, at such high volumes, can at times sound the same. Chords can become indistinguishable when they are part of the same crushing wall of sound. By employing quieter parts, as Newish Star did, it breaks up the songs and makes them each sound distinct.

I enjoyed watching this band’s drummer as well. So far, so cool: Three good bands, three killer drummers. Newish Star’s drummer had an emotionless look on his face. So serious and so precise. He hit hard. He was like a robot … who happened to be really good at drums.

I noted this band’s vocal skill as well. I genuinely look forward to seeing them again.

The last band was Lackluster, a new local band comprised of people who are in way too many bands already … But this is one of their best. There is actually some luster going on here.

Lackluster is a trio of “hardcore kids” playing pop-punk. Two of them wore the same shirt, of a little-known, but amazing, Massachusetts hardcore band called Out Cold.

One person said Lackluster reminded her of “Insomniac”-era Green Day, and I don’t disagree. It’s not revolutionary; it’s not reinventing the wheel. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I couldn’t hear the vocals very well, but I’d heard and enjoyed their demo beforehand. The chord progressions were standard but catchy. Their bass player frequently downstroked, a mark of picking skill.

But oh man. I couldn’t believe it. ANOTHER badass drummer. That’s every band tonight. This NEVER happens. He had a deep grimace. He looked tough as fuck. Great drum face. And even greater hi-hat. Like down-stroking shows the stamina of guitar or bass players, the ability to play 16th notes on the hi-hat is the mark of a talented drummer. He hit hard. Goddamn.

They did a cover of the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks.”

Their set only lasted 12 minutes in an effort to end the show at 10 p.m. exactly.

The show was attended by a couple dozen people. It was a good night. Hopefully more house venues with predilections for punk music will spring up in the near future.

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