People don’t go to punk shows to consider the aging process, they go to feel the energy of youth.
How much time do you spend thinking about the ages of people who aren’t at a concert? I was freshly 18 when I first saw No Age – the LA duo of drummer/guitarist Dean Sprunt and guitarist Randy Randall – playing a MusicFest Northwest show with Battles. It felt like a bizarre mix, but both bands favored a similar approach to music: deliver ambient guitar noise then snap necks once you’ve got people lulled into a false sense of security. As a young person, I adored No Age a lot, and not just for its ability to make compelling experimental punk; I loved that, along with other bands associated with LA’s DIY space The Smell, it embodied an all-ages mentality, light on the liquor, heavy on the accessibility. When the band played Portland’s Holocene on tour for 2010’s Everything In Between, it made sure the venue was, if only for the night, an all-ages space.
Perhaps it’s a mark of how much time has passed since the band began making music, and where it is as a band today. The kids who came up listening to No Age are adults now, so it follows that playing “adult” rooms is only natural. Spunt and Randall just aren’t making the same youthful noise they were when “Every Artist Needs a Tragedy” came out, and instead of continuing to make punk for young people, it has aged with its audience. This year’s Snares Like a Haircut doesn’t feel like the work of a different band, but as Kevin Korber noted in his review of the album, the band seems to have become reinvigorated in the space between it and 2013’s An Object – an album that was good but was hard for old fans to connect with in the same way. At Mississippi Studios, the band devoted half of their set to songs from Snares, and it was hard not to wish they’d trotted out older songs like Everything in Between opener “Life Prowler” or “I Won’t Be Your Generator” from An Object.
The biggest issue with the show was that, because the band leaned so heavily on Snares, the show began to feel like a wall of sound rather than a collection of songs. Moments of No Age’s trademark ambient noise didn’t do enough to change the fact that the band never managed to slow down enough to enjoy the ride–or to give the crowd a few moments to enjoy it. No Age is highly adept at trafficking the peaks and valleys of noise rock both on record and live, but on this night, it was hard to grab onto what each individual song felt like. Just three dates into their tour, the band can be forgiven for playing a set that could use some tinkering, especially considering the fact that the wall of sound it produced was still pretty good.
People don’t go to punk shows to consider the aging process, they go to feel the energy of youth. The magic of aging punks is that, if done gracefully, you get to experience both feelings all at once. Despite the relative flatness of the set list, it was a delight to see that the songs of Snares Like a Haircut translate well live and stack together nicely with signature songs like “Boy Void” (saved for last) and “Glitter.” Sure, the crowd may not have thrashed as much as they did when I was younger (with the exception of “Teen Creeps”), but that’s okay – the catharsis of punk can take many forms, and No Age still has the power to make its version feel effortless.