Love Jerks at Uptown, by Patric Carver

Love Jerks (photo: Patric Carver)

“This first song…this song comes from a time when I was really yearning. I was very yearnful.”

That’s how Love Jerks kicked things off last Thursday night at the Uptown, and it seemed like the “yearnful” feeling was shared by the house. They played to a booming crowd of eight or so people, whose collective energy started out barely qualifying for milling about. Exhaustion mixed with only the thinnest layer of mild interest in seeing some live music seemed to be the theme of the audience. These were people in want of something but not knowing what.

Thankfully, Love Jerks came prepared. Like ferns scrubbing the carbon dioxide from the air whilst simultaneously injecting the atmosphere with life-giving oxygen, Love Jerks took in the collective apathy and breathed out soul-warming energy.

The Love Jerks take silly very seriously. Backed up by pre-recorded music accompanied by projected images of costumed drummers floating through fantastical backgrounds, married duo Rebecca Garza-Bortman (formerly of Happy Fangs and My First Earthquake) and Bryan Garza (Scissors for Lefty) are fun to watch because they are clearly having the time of their lives on stage. It’s a beautiful thing when performers seem so perfectly content on stage — like there’s no place else they’d rather be.

There’s an immediate comparison to Devo that springs to mind. Clad in matching jumpsuits, the duo look absurdly official. They’re reporting for business, and their business just happens to be rocking out. The comparison doesn’t end with the passion for one-piece uniforms. Like Devo, Love Jerks explore themes of destruction and impending doom — both external and internal — with all the catchiness of the Shangri-Las. If there was such a genre as Bubblegum Desolation, many of the Love Jerks’ quirky ballads would fit nicely there. It’s a little reminiscent of the absurdist humor of someone like Maria Bamford, only set to song and not nearly as self-deprecating.

You can’t deny that the Jerks also have a Devo-like love for technology. Many bands have some sort of visual element to their performances — a silly green screen video projected behind a band is nothing new. However, I’ve never seen a band incorporate this element so seamlessly and thoughtfully into their performance. Not merely an added bonus or something pretty to look at, the projections used by the Jerks became, in a way, a third member of the band. The timing of these elements was spot-on, and the projections were a critical factor in the equation totalling not just the feeling of each song, but the experience of the music in total. They employed a masterful exploration of multimedia — inventive but not distracting.

But what about the music?

Simply amazing. Combining a little bit of the Carpenters with a dash of the Strokes and the sweet soulfulness of Laura Nyro, the Jerks have a sound that appeals to many without being boringly mainstream. Garza-Bortman has a tremendous voice — hitting difficult notes so casually. It reminded me of the steady charm of Cyndi Lauper — throwing in these feats of musical mastery around like it’s their pleasure to do so. Garza is no slouch, either. His playing was precise without being pretentious.

I can’t imagine there being any bad days in the Love Jerks household. They create a world on stage where fantasy is normalcy and there’s always a reason to smile.

Love Jerks will be playing Balanced BreakFEST September 21 at the Elbo Room San Francisco.