Live @ Pasaguero, Mexico City
February 4, 2011
By Grant Cogswell
North American indie bands below arena-level popularity rarely pass through the Distrito Federal, so the excitement with which No Age was greeted Friday night was unsurprising: audiences here are reliably enthusiastic, even for unexceptional bands if they have come far.
As a forty-three year old whose club glory days were in the early 90s guitar era (you could put the bands on a bill I saw in Charlottesville exactly nineteen years ago – My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr and Superchunk – into a blender and almost come up with No Age) I have to hear this outfit with a jaundiced ear. I mean, they named themselves after a 1988 SST comp: to punks of a certain age that lies somewhere between Long Tail target marketing and a marriage proposal.
No Age’s two albums on Sub Pop evoke that era in ways both obvious (frequent comparison Sonic Youth’s wall-of-scree without that band’s archness or art-school pomp) and inadvertent-seeming (sometimes a single chord will swim up through the obliterating noise as wordlessly plaintive as anything J. Mascis ever strummed).
But No Age take those influences into something new and challengingly contemporary. Their stripped-down stage presence – surferlike Dean Spunt front and center on drums and vocals, unassuming Randy Randall stage right creating chaos on guitar, and a workmanlike young man on percussion whose name I cannot find anywhere leaning over the knobs and sweating – is old-school punk
from before eyeliner was invented.
Verbal communication was limited: the band opened, “Somos No Age, de Los Angeles” and that was about the end of their Spanish. (They weren’t aloof, however: Randall demonstrated his one-phrase repertoire of dirty talk ‘A huevo! ’and Spunt briefly sang through a carnaval mask that landed onstage.)
Live, the songs are caveman-simple, unintelligible (their lyrics are often closer to the front on record – and just as often not) with a jumpy infectiousness, and the crowd clearly knew hits like ‘Eraser’ and ‘Teen Creeps’ though they couldn’t sing along.
But precursors MBV were proof not one word of a song has to be heard in order for it to burrow to the center of a listener’s heart: I’ve not seen a real pit, wall-to-wall and crowd-surfed, continue throughout a club show this small since I was young enough to get in there myself. I suspect the apparent simplicity of this music is illusory. No Age isn’t quite on the Jungian MBV tip, but carefully engineer at times a faceless spirit inside the squall that is a little older than the Internet, close as a dream, to remind you that punk-and-roll never forgets.
Diagnosis: No Age goes to Japan next week, after which they open for the Foo Fighters at Wembley in London. They are going to be huge.
Grant Cogswell is the subject of Stephen Gyllenhaal’s feature comedy Grassroots, in theaters this summer. He lives in Mexico City, where he is founder forthcoming English book emporium Under the Volcano Books and blogs at http://underthevolcanobooks.wordpress.com.