Capsul/Purling Hiss/Home Blitz/Tom Surgal/Mad Scene
Saturday, January 22
Better than: Any other rock show you could’ve seen tonight
Letha Rodman was a significant presence on the pre-Internet indie scene in NYC — chiefly with her band Ruby Falls (which included the future Rogers Sisters, Jennifer and Laura), but also as an encourager and friend to many. Early in the ’00s, she met transplanted English rocker Dan Melchior, who was transitioning from guitar star with Billy Childish and Holly Golightly into a prolific and vital bandleader of his own with the swinging blues-punk band the Broke Revue. They married, and a few years ago departed the city for the greener pastures of the Chapel Hill area.
As traumatic events can, the news late last fall that Letha Melchior Rodman had been diagnosed with melanoma and breast cancer (as she related in an e-mail also filled with optimism and resolve) united her friend-base in support. (Make your own donation here.) If Saturday night’s benefit at Cake Shop felt more functional than emotional, that’s probably due to it morphing from a regular gig to a benefit after a few of the bands had already been booked. No matter: The cash will go to an excellent cause, and the rock ranged from good to great to . . . bloody.
None of the bands seemed like a headliner; the night bounded along. The Mad Scene went first with six songs of Velvety, granular guitar pop, everything dry and cool, so very in the pocket, the pocket so tattered. Hamish Kilgour (of the Clean, and one of underground rock’s truly unique drummers), who slid between fronting and drumming, let us know there’s a new album coming soon via Siltbreeze (“our first in, I dunno, 15 years?” he wondered correctly), and also mentioned Letha, as well as the big hole in the ozone over his native New Zealand.
Late addition Tom Surgal of White Out (and video-directing fame) followed with an eight-minute solo-percussion set, quickly carving out a new drum vocabulary that reads right to left, down to up, crosshatch and diagonal. Elbows on drums, rolling and rolling; sticks and bones make tones.
Next was Home Blitz, and they gave a lot, you could say. Similar to Columbus, Ohio’s ’90s punk legends Gaunt in that they come on like a distinctly American articulation of what the Damned were about, the band ripped through a tight set of bent melodic pop, guitars like punk darts with tricked-out cassette-noise accompaniment. Main dude Daniel DiMaggio was twitchy and frowny; in the half-second or so that I looked away from the stage, he opened a gushing wound above his right eye, at about microphone level. I mean, it was almost comically gushing. While bleeding in rock music is generally unquestionably awesome, his reaction — a nervy, shrugging, and awkward dismissal — left arguably more of an impression (unless you’re squeamish).
Philly trio Purling Hiss launched into their set with a fleet but heavy blues-rock jam that brought to mind early Screaming Trees, the kind of sound you’d file next to Endless Boogie (if alphabetization didn’t matter). The rest of the set cruised through less distinguished territory, but satisfied on some easily accessed primal level.
Closing the night was an oddity that any fan of New Zealand music would’ve drooled over: the Mad Scene’s Kilgour returned to drum behind fellow Kiwi-rock legend Alister Parker as Capsul, in a short, killer set of Bailter Space and Gordons songs. How is Parker not wildly famous among guitar freaks? A suave, weirdly futuristic and blissed-out presence, Parker spun brittle yet refined noise and hooks in equal measure; they began with the rarely heard “In Love with These Times” (which lent its title to a vital Flying Nun comp of late-’80s NZ pop), and closed with the monstrously groovy single “Grader Spader.” (Won’t somebody please post this on YouTube?) The word was that the mostly full room was a “technical sell out” — technical mission accomplished!
Critical Bias: I’m thanked on one of Dan Melchior’s albums.
Overheard: “You know, where I come from, it’s too easy to get melanoma.”
Random Notebook Dump: Anytime somebody bleeds that much during a set, you can’t help but think it might be the best show you’ve ever seen.
Capsul Set List
I’m in Love with These Times
Your Invisible Life