Reptoid at the Elbo Room, by Patric Carver
Reptoid (photo: Patric Carver)

Last Saturday, the Elbo Room Oakland rolled out its beer-stained carpet to locals looking for things to get loud. Housed in the location of the now-defunct club the Night Light, Elbo’s expansion location to the sunny side of the Bay seems to be a mission of preservation. Coming off of rumors that the San Francisco location was going to meet its demise last year, this East Bay spot is a welcome surprise that seems to make a lot of sense. Oaklanders who have been schlepping themselves to the Mission for the eclectic selections the Elbo is known for will hopefully appreciate the break in BART fare and frequent the new location. the Elbo not only lives on, but it’s flexing!

In addition to self-preservation, there’s a definite feeling of preservation of Bay Area spirit. With more and more places being bought out by mega-corporations that bring in their ticket scanning wands, metal detectors, and sense of late-stage capitalism, it’s nice that this expansion didn’t come with an iHeart Radio bumper sticker. Not much appears to have changed at 3111 Broadway. The aforementioned beer-stained carpet still lines the notoriously narrow staircase leading to the upstairs performance space. It is notably cleaner, but I suspect that is the residuals of a deep clean for the benefit of some required appraisal during the property’s change of hands. Hopefully, a new layer of rock and roll debris will envelope the place soon for that homey, “lived-in” feel.

Like a modern-day Cheers with more black hoodies, band tees, and Fugazi references, the crowd certainly seemed to be at home. Everyone knew everyone else, many of the audience members and performers key players in last year’s PRF BBQ West.

Roland kicked off the night. A four-piece instrumental band, they seem to constantly be answering the question, “If dragons breathed music instead of fire, what would it sound like?” Not quite metal, not quite prog rock, Roland falls somewhere in between infinite guitar machinations and bottomless grinding slurry. It’s definitely a divisive sound; you’re either going to be really into it or you’re not. When I hear bands like this, I often think they’d be great bands to see with someone on a first date. Like a sonic Rorschach test, their reaction will pretty much tell you if a second date is warranted. If two people disagree on whether this is entertaining, there’s no future for them. They come from different worlds.

The same can be said for closing act, Reptoid, who, as it happens, claims to be from another realm himself. A one-man “loud noise” act, Reptoid performs in a self-constructed catacomb of percussion and effect pedals that he erects. Wearing a voice modulating mask, Reptoid thrashes around with a nearly villainous focus. I think I’d have a very hard time distinguishing one of Reptoid’s “songs” from another, but I’ll always be able to identify them as Reptoid. It’s a collection of sounds like no other. Some bands champion themselves as noisy, but Reptoid is the champion of noise. Again, if it’s not your thing, it’s really not going to be your thing. Playing on cymbals that aren’t just broken but defeated, their tattered remains balancing off-kilter on their stands, Reptoid is noise. I imagine that if heart attacks or brain embolisms could make noise, they would sound like Reptoid. I loved it.

Sandwiched between these two acts was the most conventional artist of the evening, rock and roll band Conan Neutron and the Secret Friends. Neutron was returning to the Bay Area for a couple shows after moving the great frozen north, aka Milwaukee (insert Laverne and Shirley reference here). The Secret Friends change often, but this lineup is the best I’ve seen. Erica Strout from Motherfucker out of Athens, Georgia, joined the Friends this tour, and she absolutely shredded on guitar during the lead on “Chair of Antlers.” There’s this beautiful, needling sound, and she nailed it. It was a great complement to the absolute slog provided by Neutron and bassist Tony Ash. A powerhouse all night long, Ash’s command on “Avid Fan” was awesomely confrontational. Someone once said to me that the bass is best when it’s noticeable, but when it never overshadows the guitar. I’ve since stopped talking to that person because sometimes all the reverb and distortion in the world won’t cut it and you just need that deep-down, bone-quivering sound of the bass to seep into your audience from the metaphorical spotlight. In the same regard, the percussion also was more than a supporting player. Drummer Chris Bolig played the drums not just like he was angry at them, but like he was angry at himself. Like a self-flagellation ritual set to music, Bolig tore up his kit. I’ve seen a lot of guys wear gloves to play the drums, but rarely have I felt it was warranted. My palms hurt after seeing him play. With machine-like precision, he pounded through each song. Rush-esque drum solos were not needed to come through strong. He was remarkable without overpowering the song. These were not just Secret Friends, they were super friends.

Band leader Conan completely killed it as well. A human wrecking ball comprised of sequined jackets, sweat, and song, Neutron has an enthusiasm on stage that is more than infectious, it’s downright plague-inducing — incurable, unstoppable. He’s the Mad Cow of frontmen. You can’t be satisfied with lukewarm rock after seeing Neutron play. He gets right in your head. Partly it’s his showmanship. He has a great presence on stage, but mostly it’s just he writes some damn good songs. “Eat the Rude” and “Quid Pro Quo” were stuck in my head long after my car ride home. In fact, they’re running through my head as I write this. Catchy without being cliche and fun without being dumb, Neutron is a national treasure. He’s holding on to the soul of rock n’ roll with one hand and reaching out to the rest of us with the other.

One of the mottos of Neutron’s outfit is “always different, always the same.” The lights at the old Night Light may have flickered off momentarily, but they’re back on and largely the same as the Elbo Room Jack London. I hope that remains the case, as Oakland talent needs another a great Oakland venue.