1 June 2019 / Common Room, Hastings / By Michael Hawksworth
The above photo was really the best I could manage, given the limitations of my phone’s camera, the jostling of a tight, electrified crowd, and an insanely fast-moving target. Pat Beers, the band’s lead guitarist, vocalist, and in every single way, front man, is slight, lithe, angular in paisley shirt, flares, and grown-out bowl cut. From his first windmilling guitar attacks, he was a frenzied presence on the suddenly alarmingly small Common Room stage he was sharing with drummer Lety Beers and bassist Blake Lindquist.
Because Schizophonics’ songs are essentially extended freak-outs with no-fucking-about vocal deliveries, Beers was mostly in flight, an unhinged amalgam of Prince and Pete Townsend, flinging himself and his guitar around in ways that, well, if it had been me up there, would have resulted in confusion, catastrophic equipment failure and the guitar buried in some punter’s ribcage. That Beers was able to maintain this level of rock ’n’ roll mania without ever dropping a riff, missing a cue, or blunting the edges of the band’s sharp amphetamine grooves, was a wonder.
We’re right in the middle of a very nostalgic time for rock music. It seems like so many ‘originals’ bands (that is, not ‘covers’ bands), their personnel raised on the comprehensive and accelerated music literacy enabled by YouTube etc., conceive themselves as living fan-letters to some touchstone moment/genre/sub-genre/scene. (Does this pervasive desire to revisit, to re-perform, to re-inhabit, to re-touch the cultural lightening rods of the past say something about our lack of faith in current pop culture’s ability to find forms of its own – discuss). That moment, for Schizophonics, who hail from San Diego, is ‘60’s US garage rock, a kind of proto-punk flowering of bands exploring the harder/faster possibilities of rock ’n’ roll, groups like Electric Prunes, The Seeds and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators (whose lead singer Roky Erickson only just passed away, and to whom the Schizophonics tonight paid tribute with an Elevators cover).
Current big names on the international scene, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall and Unknown Mortal Orchestra are indebted to those same influences, more or less, and Schizophonics’ angle is perhaps blacker; Beer’s vocal delivery, though necessarily quite rushed and breathless, is a soul delivery, with all of its grunts, whoops and call and response energy. In a grand finale of Common Room group participation, Beers left the stage during a stunning rendition of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, and as the song descended in to a tense hushed eye (“shake baby shake, shake baby shake…”) brought the entire audience down to a crouch, before releasing them into a mad pogo (“WHOLE LOTTA SHAKIN’ GOIN ON!”). Dynamite.
It was as good a gig as Common Room could have hoped for to celebrate it’s 6th birthday, and certainly one of the best that I’ve seen there, or in fact, anywhere in Hawkes Bay for a few years. Common Room consistently hosts vital, life-affirming gigs, not because it backs big-name winners to maximise its bar-takings, but, in fact, the opposite; it fosters a culture of celebration and interest in every kind of creative performance, and really seems to see that expression of hosting as its purpose (and into the bargain serves you some very nice drinks). Long may it sail.
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