Words / Photos: Alex Wood
The garage and punk rock genres have seen a massive influx of talent in recent years, and The Men’s show at The Empty Bottle felt like a celebration of the music scene’s embrace.
Both openers were local and put on tremendous shows, full of energy and attitude, as though they represented the two distinct directions bands tend to head in the genre.
VeeDee’s set leaned toward garage rock with powerful riffs built on fast, chugging rhythms. Simple, often-bluesy song structures combined with catchy guitar hooks and solos performed with conviction.
The second band, Basic Cable, stepped it up a notch, trading the opener’s garage-rock feel for sludgy, loud punk rock. The songs were three minute spurts of energy, the singer screaming into the microphone at the top of his lungs, the words still muted by the earsplitting volume of the guitars, which they constantly demanded be turned up. The performers thrashed about stage with their guitars, traded off vocals and soloed proficiently.
Though both bands put on stellar shows, they walked the clean-cut paths cleared by garage and punk bands before them.
This is where The Men stepped in, shattering these supposed formulas entirely.
The instrumental track “Lotus” opened at the deafening volume that would remain for the rest of the night, replicating the blown-out guitar sound of the studio track. The five-piece followed with an even older song, “Lazarus,” the guitar feedback giving way to a grungy punk riff.
While these two tracks felt like harder rocking versions of the opening bands, the Men quickly differentiated themselves with “Different Days” from their newest album, the excellent Tomorrow’s Hits.
Gone were the simple song structures built on heavy riffs at high volumes. Though the drummer and bassist kept the energetic pace, the guitarists stretched out with lighter riffs to match the melodic vocal line.
After the older opening tracks, it was like witnessing a punk band having grown up before your eyes. It was something greater than punk. It was pure rock ‘n roll.
This maturity was most obvious in longer tracks like “Supermoon,” where the guitarists had a chance to take long solos, trading off vigorous riffs and melodies for up to six minutes, held together by the keyboardist, who played a huge role in making The Men more than your average punk band.
While songs like “Dark Waltz” and “Another Night” offered breaks from the breakneck punk energy of the other songs, the solo sections and heavy progressions still hit hard.
“Pearly Gates” was almost danceable, the vocals delivered as bursting yelps as the keys clattered out lines as fuzzy and distorted as the endlessly soloing guitars, the track building and building to an unbearably powerful climax, the audience making room for a small mosh pit.
As if to prove they could take the sound further, the band hit a spacey, droning jam that marked the beginning of “If You Leave,” squealing guitars keeping the punk intensity that ran through the night. The drone became another heavy riff, cymbals crashing and members singing in unison.
The encore consisted, appropriately, of two covers of bands that rose to become something greater than punk, influences that surely assisted The Men in becoming the powerhouse they are today.
Devo’s “Gates Of Steel” was performed with predictable emphasis on the guitar riffs, turning the synth-rock masterpiece into a rowdy punk anthem. After a minute of screeching feedback and the guitarist literally slamming his guitar into his amp, The Stooges’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog” followed with force, ending a night of punk rock with a familiar classic and coming full circle from the bombastic opener.
The Men walked off stage and the audience were left standing around, ears ringing, as though mesmerized by what the band managed to do in just over an hour.
3. Different Days
6. Dark Waltz
7. Going Down
8. Another Night
9. The Brass
10. Pearly Gates
11. If You Leave…
12. Gates Of Steel (Devo)
13. I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges)