After milling about in an unusually long door queue, I wandered into Bottom of the Hill on Friday night smack in the middle of Oakland-via-Santa Cruz garage-surf foursome Meat Market’s rowdy set. The youthful group, who can now add their name to the tremendous roster of spry, talented Bay Area garage rock bands, wore amused grins throughout the show, dedicating songs to enthusiastic friends in the pit. Their music is lightweight and danceable, the singing style a mix of surf rock staple ooh-aahs and sore throat inducing screeches.
LA-based Pangea played next and brought the same surf-punk-garage mix to the table, while adding a touch of desperation — I counted two songs with not just slacker themes, but slacker sex specifically. And anytime you make reference to your own inability to give it 100% (their mid-set hit “Too Drunk to Cum” comes to mind), you really don’t give a fuck.
Perhaps it’s a theme better left to the lonely and unwanted punk academic, but the performer willing to get on stage and sing about his own sexual failing turns our hyper-sexual pop music culture upside down. Whereas slacker punk has always been happy to rage against traditional notions of employment and healthy drug use (pro-alcoholism, namely), when Pangea openly described their own sexual regrets, it felt important, even if it comprised only a small portion of their set.
Adding to the whole strange scene was a gaggle of underage girls stage left, their hands constantly in their hair as they danced with moves pulled straight out of 80s hair metal music videos. Even their shirts were cut up on the sides to flash their bras. It felt forced and awkward and yet somehow a perfect match for a world turned on its head — pretty girls dancing on tables, a band singing about their dicks going soft. It was intriguing, to say the least.
FIDLAR opened with their band-defining cut “Cheap Beer,” a thrashing anthem to the lowest price-per-ounce available in the beer aisle, with a stuttering chorus: “I — DRINK — CHEAP — BEER — SO — WHAT — FUCK — YOU!” Also from Los Angeles, FIDLAR are named after the acronym for “fuck it dog, life’s a risk,” supposedly a pre-YOLO phrase lead singer Zac Carper heard from his skater roommates. Surprisingly, Carper perfectly replicates the throat-shredding vocals on their S/T debut LP — giving the band an unexpectedly crisp, clean sound for the genre.
Nearly every FIDLAR song has a party-theme (“Cheap Cocaine,” “Blackout Stout,” “Wake Bake Skate”) and you can tell the band, whether it’s an act or not, don’t really care what you think. In contrast to the SF rock scene, where bands like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees record with obvious artsy ambitions — in this sense, simply the urge to write songs about topics more substantial than a temporary coke binge — FIDLAR have no desire to go there. Is it a geographical divide? In San Francisco, rock bands work to redefine garage as a respectable endeavor. In Los Angeles, they seem to want the opposite — no responsibility, no job, no money. I hate to say it, but these guys are great actors, enough that you almost believe songs this good can come from nothing but negative ambition. Almost.