No Age at the Middle East Downstairs, July 14, 2008
It was one of those nights where the Middle East crowd spills onto the sidewalk and then into the street (cars be damned), creating a scene that rivals the one inside the venue. Upstairs, the Seattle-based Sub Pop indie-folk band Fleet Foxes were playing; downstairs the Hollywood art-punk duo No Age, also Sub Poppers, held forth. The rivaling headlining sets from these hot-button labelmates felt just wrong — like your best friend throwing a party the same night as you.
Randy Randall and Dean Allen Spunt, the surprisingly unpunkish-looking pair who make up No Age, were unfazed — then again, there’s probably not much that pisses off two dudes who play free shows at vegan supermarkets. Their set-up was sparse: two skinny guys in T-shirts and sunglasses, some drums, a guitar, and a bunch of effects pedals. Spunt, who’s both the drummer and the vocalist, would also fiddle with an array of knobs behind him, producing several looped beats and other sounds. It’s too bad Randall doesn’t have four hands to play both guitar and bass; a band without a bass player always sounds so palpably like a Band Without a Bass Player, even when distortion does its best to fill the gap.
Experienced live, No Age’s songs feel like quick jabs of noise — some of them clock in at under two minutes. Each starts off with a chaotic mess of Spunt’s thunderous drumming and croaking vocals and Randall’s echoing, end-of-the-world guitar distortion. Then they shift into something that feels more melodic and familiar. “Teen Creeps,” and “Cappo,” off the band’s Sub Pop debut, Nouns, seemed penned for the type of careless, rebellious summers that exist only in movies like Dazed and Confused.
Or maybe they exist in Cambridge. The sweaty under-21 crowd at the all-ages show danced frenetically and attempted to crowd-surf not once but twice — the second time with half-success. “Don’t let the bouncers bring you down!” instructed Spunt. “Stare into the face of authority and say, ‘Fuck you, man!’ ” The over-21 portion of the audience, now wallflowers, sipped Pabst Blue Ribbon on the mezzanine and looked on.
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