This Weekend In New York: AIDS Wolf Gets Serious, Norton Fest Turns The Bell House Into A Garage


In Waste Of Paint, our writer/artist team of Jamie Peck and Debbie Allen will review goings-on about town in words and images.

This weekend, Waste Of Paint traveled back in time to take a look at the roots of the neo-garage-rock movement we know and love today. As it turns out, the scene’s forefathers and mothers have not gone extinct, but continued on their original paths, sprouting numerous branches along the way. We also saw AIDS Wolf, because why not?

Friday night, we traveled to the western edge of Manhattan for a pummeling from Canadian prog-punk/no wave band AIDS Wolf. Despite the cold weather and remote (from Brooklyn) location, the band attracted a small group of hardcore noise heads, eager for an experience at least as brutal as the wind outside. Despite their intentionally awful name (par for the course for a genre that also includes Child Abuse and Arab On Radar), what was once a messy group of costumed bohemians has recently crystallized into a three-piece serious about exploring avant-garde forms.

Drumer Yannick Desranleau created an overwhelming avalanche as he double-kicked and polyrhythmed his way through various compositions, taking an equal amount of inspiration from jazz and metal, while Alex Moskos turned his guitar into a buzzsaw using just analog equipment and his own fingers. Over this maelstrom, vocalist Chloe Lum let fly a distorted stream of babble that sounded like Donald Duck speaking in tongues to (believe it or not!) wonderful effect, although the Melt-Banana fan in me wished she would scream more. Some ambitious people headbanged straight through, while others stood with their arms crossed, expressions of transcendent bliss on their faces.

Saturday, we attended Night Three of the Norton Records 25th Anniversary All-Star Spectacular, a four-day-long extravaganza in celebration of the rockabilly, surf, garage, and R&B label. Greying old timers, still-youthful Gen Xers, and nubile ’60s cosplayers in Trashy Diva dresses filled the Bell House in equal measures. Accoutrements spotted in the crowd included eye patches, Freemason fezzes, white go-go boots, and oh so many pairs of vintage glasses. Some attendees had come from as far afield as Australia and Sweden, as we learned while chatting people up at the burger stand.

The bill ranged from the yelping psychobilly of Daddy Longlegs, to the somewhat gunkier-sounding “primitive rock and roll” of The Hentchmen, to the sax-laden doo-wop of the (amazingly sprightly for their ages) South Bay Surfers. Overseeing it all was longstanding rock and roll personality Kim Fowley (a.k.a. that creepy guy who managed the Runaways), who introduced each act with quips like “this is the band that made water sports legal!” On the topic of age, Untamed Youth’s Deke Dickerson singer remarked, “we’re so old that our first few albums only came out on vinyl, and not because it was cool” before launching into a goofy, PBR-soaked set of ’60s-via-’80s rock and roll that was augmented, at one point, by Andy Shernoff from the Dictators.

Saturday headliner Question Mark and the Mysterians dominated the room with nearly an hour’s worth of the life-affirming garage rock they’ve been playing since the early 1960s, when they became early pioneers of the genre (as well as one of the first Latino rock groups to have a mainstream hit in the U.S.). Despite being well into his sixth decade, lead singer Rudy Martinez (or “?”, as he prefers to be called) showed no signs of his age as he barreled around the stage in a sequined deep-v, cowboy hat and sunglasses singing about the enormous power of love. The band’s biggest hit, “96 Tears” (the iconic keyboard line has launched many groovy imitations), was so well-received by the crowd that they performed it twice, once towards the beginning of the set and once more toward the triumphant end. The next time one of my 30something friends complains about being “old,” I’m going to show them a video clip of this performance.

Sunday, a reconstituted version of the Sonics made the at-capacity crowd feel like it was 1965 again. Almost more than any other band, this group of Pacific Northwesterners is credited with laying the groundwork for punk rock by pushing the lyrical and musical envelopes into ever-wilder territory. I’ll be honest and say that I was initially unsure how their live show would hold up in a world that now includes much “louder” iterations of rock, but the dark, infectious energy of songs like “The Witch,” “Psycho” and the much-covered “Strychnine” was on full display. They also debuted a few new songs, which slotted in well with the older stuff.

Maybe you already know this, but when the Sonics did their aggressive version of “Louie Louie,” I realized all you need to do to get “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is invert the second half of the riff and keep the drums pretty much the same; fellow Seattle-ite Kurt Cobain wasn’t kidding when he called theirs “the most amazing drum sound I’ve ever heard.” As the motley crowd grew more and more frenzied, I caught a glimpse of what it must have felt like in those early “holy moly, what the heck is this?” days of rock and roll. It’s no wonder Christian parents thought it was an instrument of the devil.

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