The heady rush that punk delivers is indistinguishable from its hard-fast-short credo, and what emo has drained from the punk experience isn’t so much its native cynicism but rather its performance rigor. Years ago punk cured me of my consumerist preferences in live music: I often judged a band in terms of cost-effectiveness. How long did they play? I then saw Elvis Costello during the Armed Forces tour play a blistering 30-minute set in Berekeley. The college crowd was pissed, demanding an encore that never came and believing they hadn’t gotten their money’s worth. I was floored. It was the most intense concert experience I’d had up to that point. EC and the Attractions came out and played fifteen songs without pause and got off. Though Costello was not, strictly speaking, a punk act, he was exploiting the punk performance style to make a point. Of course, this style was developed in clubs where an evening’s entertainment consisted of half a dozen acts, so one could perhaps sympathize with the Berkeley crowd for feeling they hadn’t heard enough for what they’d paid, but I couldn’t say I wasn’t satisfied.
No Age, the punk duo from Los Angeles, played at Quattro on Feb. 16 in front of a good-sized crowd that was appreciative and at time stoked but never quite dropped over the edge into total punk ecstasy. Drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall have a slightly artier take on hard-fast-short. The frantic tempos, bullet-proof melodies, and pocket-sized compositions are all there, but augmented by interludes of guitar squall and loops/effects that were recreated on stage by a serious-looking friend in a tie and windbreaker. Randall played the same hollow-bodied guitar through the entire 75-minute set, and the pair only paused between songs maybe twice. The show had momentum but lacked the kind of sharp definition, both aurally and visually, that usually makes live punk so bracing. My companion mentioned that just when a song started to hit its stride, it tended to end. He liked the fact that they were expanding punk’s parameters but thought they didn’t go far enough: It’s possible to take hard-fast-short too seriously. Call me old-fashioned, but that wouldn’t be punk; which, of course, is hardly a flexible position to take in an indie rock world where anything is acceptable and rules mean nothing.
I might have been more flexible if the group didn’t trade in the kind of show biz cliches that implied standards, even if they were standards that had been applied for no other reason except that Spunt and Randall didn’t know how to engage a non-English speaking audience verbally. They made the interesting and not entirely successful decision to have A-ron the Downtown Don, a hip-hop/slam poet, presumably from New York, open for them. He was only on for less than five minutes and functioned more as an emceee than a support act, but his bit went completely over the heads of the Japanese kids in the crowd. Spunt would occasionally try to rally the audience to create more of a party mood, but the intersong rattles and hums, though often quite beautiful, had the ultimate effect of damping the set’s impetus, which is everything in punk. When the duo came out for their encore, a Black Flag cover that didn’t differ texturally from their own material, they thanked the audience profusely and imparted on them to “keep on keepin’ on,” a cliche that was actually pretty funny (and, again, went over most everyone’s head) and truer than Randall probably knew. If punk is about anything, it’s not stopping.