A couple of years ago, staring down the barrel of my approaching thirties and in peak quarter-life crisis mode, I came up with the obvious solution to my ennui — I bought a motorcycle. Even though my riding phase lasted less than a year, it was awesome, and 90% of the sonic fuel blasting freedom and badassery into my helmet was none other than Athens, Georgia’s The Whigs. When I heard these dudes were in town to support fellow joyride soundtrackers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, I threw on my Zeke Death Alley biker shirt and my finest tattered jeans and headed down to House of Blues to rock it out.
While beflanneled frontman Parker Gispert dealt with a hilariously arduous mic check, I overheard someone next to me say “This is going to rock balls. There’s gonna be some ball rockin’ tonight. That’s my prediction.” Okay, I’ll admit it — my buddy Adam said that, but he was right. After starting with the slow simmer of “Dying Before Breaking,” from new album In The Dark (out last Tuesday), The Whigs broke into a heartracing mix of great new stuff along with anthems from their 2008 release, Mission Control. The three-piece group, with wiry Jesus-in-a-tank-top Tim Deaux on bass and energetic Julian Dorio on drums, pulled out the stops and forced me to yank out my earplugs on the leg-kicking wail of “Like A Vibration.”
Their new songs are a little more accessible than in my motorcycling days, but the drummer still had plenty of opportunities to break into an awesome hair-flopping headbang (as on In The Dark closer “Naked”); similarly, on “Hundred/Million,” the stringy-haired Gispert strummed with so much energy that he knocked over the mic stand. TWICE.
The crowd at House of Blues was a bit older, but, rocking leather jackets and slicked hair, they took full advantage of $10 tall-boy and Jello-shot combos, reminding me that I wasn’t the only one to ever fall victim to fractional-life-crises. It seemed folks were chasing their youths with other chemicals besides alcohol, the way the lounge bathroom smelled like an Amsterdam coffee house. Whatever the reason, HoB was ready to rock by the time BRMC took the stage.
Like The Whigs, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club makes way more noise than you’d expect from a three-piece band. Singer Robert Been wears a leather jacket, of course, and looking like a cross between James Dean and that vampire from “Twilight,” it’s safe to assume he doesn’t fare too badly with the ladies. Live, BRMC bathed their droning fuzz-rock in primary colors and even busted out a strobe light for “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” (from their new album of the same name), a great song that had the audience stomping along. The stoner aesthetic of their music didn’t slow down the live show, with Been mixing it up with an acoustic Dylan cover (“Visions of Johanna”), throwing John Lennon lyrics (from “I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama”) into an extended jam of “White Palms,” twisting the knobs to bend notes on the bass, and occasionally humping the speakers to squeeze out an extra serving of fuzz. Of course they played their breakout hit “Whatever Happened (to my Rock & Roll),” which, with Been up there screaming into drummer Leah Shapiro’s ear while Shapiro blasts a punk backbeat, is obviously a rhetorical question.
San Diego was their last stop as a double bill, so it was great to catch these bands together. And I may have sold my bike months ago, but this show made me salivate like Pavlov’s dogs for the potato-potato purr of a big cruiser.