Last Night: Nobunny at the Independent
Nobunny (w/ Jay Reatard, Bare Wires)
Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009
Photos by Scott Caris
Better than: A drunken Thumper.
Just three songs into his set, Nobunny's guitarist had broken a string. His bassist had broken his instrument--stopping the show to borrow another band's bass. And this was after the Oakland-based group had driven 12 hours to get to the Independent from previous night's gig in Oregon ("I know, it only takes 10 hours to get here from Portland," Nobunny told the crowd from behind his ratty white rabbit mask and pig nose, "but we had to stop a lot to vomit.")
Despite their setbacks, though, this band had unbeatable stage presence ... even if (or, actually due in part to) its namesake and singer jumping on stage sans pants. Although he was wearing a single shoe, a dirty white sports jacket (which he tried to sell to the audience for $50), and a white tee with his mantra handwritten across the front: "Let's Party." For the whole of Nobunny's set, the crowd followed that mantra, turning a usually slugging night of the week into an excuse to do the, well, Nobunny hop into one another. It was all fun and games at the Independent, masked punk style...until headliner Jay Reatard hucked an apparently obnoxious girl off the stage like she was a half-empty beer bottle. But more on that in a minute.
The evening overall started kinda slow. Oakland's Bare Wires rehashed Richard Hell's NYC with a set of inoffensive rock 'n' roll that never got poppy or sharp enough to keep your attention for very long. Their humble attitude (which included taking a break to sing happy birthday to the drummer) made the music slightly more endearing, but overall their sonic style was all too familiar.
In contrast, Nobunny -- a one man show with a three-piece backing band -- took the common costumed punk shtick and made it very entertaining. The singer jumped into the crowd during the opening song (a little ditty called "Nobunny Loves You"), performed handstands, stuck his hands into his red bikini briefs, and cracked jokes in a raspy voice all night. He belted out the tunes like John Belushi on a bender over twisted '50s-styled rock 'n' roll, and his band looked as entertained as the fans, grinning at their frontman and looking far too animated for a group that'd spent half their Sunday behind the wheel. They perked up the whole club, delivering a lively crowd to headliner Jay Reatard by the time his trio took the stage.
Reatard is another musician rarely lacking in energy. He speeds through his sets like he's moving toward to what he really wants to be doing that night, barely taking a breather to gulp down half a bottle of water at a shot, or blurting out the song titles before the previous tune's finished. It's a pacing that unfortunately makes it hard to enjoy a Jay Reatard show, as much as I really love his records. Fast pacing gets the pits more frantic, sure, but it pushes his shows in a giant blur, where every song is a carbon copy of the previous one, with nothing breaking up or punching out individual singles as standouts.
I've seen Reatard a number of times over the years, and more recently nearly every show has become an exercise in frustration. For someone who puts so much effort into crafting these perfect punk confections (sweet on the inside, full of noisy guitar riffs everywhere else), live Reatard is in too much of a rush; his vocals too lost in the race, and the great build his material contains on the studio flattened. When every part of every song is the hyper climax, where do you go from there?
I was getting ready to write off this Jay Reatard show as a repeat of all the rest when things got heated behind the monitors. Reatard had blown through most of Blood Visions and a number of his Matador singles when he motioned for a girl to get up on stage. He then gave her his black and white Flying V guitar. It was tough for me to see exactly what happened next over the crowd, but a taller neighbor explained that this gal, who apparently seemed a bit wasted, took the instrument and threw it down not once but twice before flipping off everyone at the club. At which point Reatard raced up behind her, picked her up like a laundry sack, and threw her hard out into the pit before he also flipped the finger and stormed off stage. He looked pissed--and from there the show stopped on a dime, the house lights and music came back on, and fans left scratching their heads about what the hell just happened. Really, it was too much drama and too little reward, with this unintended flash of confrontation halting Reatard's bullet train and really sending the night off the tracks. In the end, I remain a loyal fan of Reatard's records, but for showmanship, sense of humor, and an unexpected stealing the show, last night Nobunny was our Sunday night star.
Critical bias: I've lost count of the number of times I've seen Jay Reatard play live, but my absolute favorite show hasn't been matched. In January 2006 (on my birthday, no less) Reatard played a happy hour gig at the Hemlock that ended with him smashing a clock on his face. I remember the set being real fast and real loud, but it also was really dynamic in a way he hasn't been since.