No Age, the West Coast vegan noise-rock duo, is at this point a streamlined beast of Ritalin fervor, and the band’s live show is one of the only few today where contemplative noise adepts can mix with pogoing mosh-pit addicts. Serious, unabashed sweaty moshing can turn heads in New York: They’re doing what?
Too bad that for whatever reason the Bowery Ballroom sound system wasn’t cutting No Age any favors. For most of the set, on May 6, the only thing clearly coming out was three-fourths of Dean Spunt’s drum kit: vocals, ride cymbal and guitar all struggled to be heard above the din, which is a bummer insofar as No Age’s sound takes its vitality from the careful balance between bare-bones song structure and jacked-up indie-punk muscle.
Thus, the elements that make Nouns (released this week via Sub Pop) such an engaging record, the interplay between force, noise, and song, got a bit swallowed up, leaving only the ceaseless freight train of wound-up punk energy. It’s a very athletic and cathartic energy that’s friendly and sweet-natured at the same time, so that I sometimes can’t help but think of them as Sonic Youth’s kid brothers, tousled-hair moppets who have stolen into the studio after the big kids have left to jump up and down on the sofa, have a sugar-high pillow fight and knock a beer over on Thurston’s amp.
Live, No Age’s good-time noise seems to link so directly to the type of community it was born from and continues to foster: a vibrant West-Coast DIY scene with its own beloved worn-out venue, the Smell, and loosely familial aggregate of various bands of whom No Age is poised to be the break-out act. On stage the duo seemed to reign it in antic-wise, compared to past performances (including their last appearance in New York, opening for the Liars at Warsaw)–no jumping off amplifiers or other such flourishes, such that one wonders if they’re taking things in the headlining spot a little more seriously than before.
And it was often when their energetic freight train made a pit-stop or swerved into a detour that the band’s raw, undeveloped potential, of which there is still arguably plenty despite them already having reached a distinct and unique style, came more visibly to light: the more riff-based jams, like the first encore, stood out from the bar-chord barrage that sometimes left songs indistinguishable from one another.
Without a doubt the members of No Age have struck a deep vein in terms of how to play together, carving out a new territory in between all sorts of aggressive underground American music they no doubt grew up with–so they’re up on that, and clearly becoming a live force be reckoned with. But the Bowery show indicates that the full range of possibilities that such a playing style can be harnessed for still lies in the future.