purling1It was a great night for guitars at the gourmet pizza and beer joint Comet Ping Pong. Three energetic bands vied for the title of shredding-est and most pedal-riffic. There was one problem. You couldn’t hear them sing.

It wasn’t a deal-breaker at first. I had no idea what DC’s Foul Swoops was singing about, but it was fun just to watch and listen to them, a stoic female farfisa player in a fuzzy black jacket holding down the fort while her male bandmates jumped around and shouted out a raw garage punk that reverberated against the walls of the intimate venue. I was sorry they didn’t have any merch for sale at the show, but I wanted to hear more, and they were a perfect warm-up for the next act.

Purling Hiss, whose latest release Weirdon is my favorite album of the year, was the band I was most looking forward to seeing. Mike Polizze is a heavy psychedelic guitar whiz, and that side of his music was well served by the venue. Bassist Kiel Everett and spazzy drummer Ben Leaphart back up the guitarist to make a solid power trio whose sound filled up a space that appropriately seemed like somebody’s garage. But Weirdon is full of great songs, and inexcusable mic problems meant you couldn’t hear them. At all. During the Foul Swoops set, it was endearing to see audience members turn mics around for band members to sing into, but whoever was running the sound at Comet Ping Pong couldn’t reconcile the power trio sound with Polizze’s vocals. They kicked off their set with album opener “Forcefield of Solitude,” and I could see Polizze try to sing the chorus but I couldn’t hear him.

The music was great, but lack of vocals compromised their sound terribly. Polizze and company closed their set by stretching out the album’s centerpiece, “Learning Slowly,” with an extended guitar jam. The live set does show the subtle production values of Weirdon, which layers guitar lines and adds tambourine to a few tracks. These are songs that should gain power live, but they never had a chance because of the mic problems. Polizze’s songs work in part because of the contrast between pop melodies and the heavy power trio sound, but half that dynamic was inaudible—which left you with excellent music but only half the story.

Meatbodies had recently appeared on “Last Call with Carson Daly,” and they were the (mostly) baby-faced headliners. Their album got a negative review in this space, but they had a lively stage presence and almost corny head-banging enthusiasm for old-school guitar rock, fondly copping licks and ‘tude from Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, grunge and hardcore. I couldn’t hear their lyrics either, but their songs had the benefit of the occasional vocal break without instruments, their songs more percussive so that missing the vocals didn’t lose sight of what makes them rock. Mainly, guitarist Chad Ubovich. The sometime Mikal Cronin and Ty Segall bandmate had the most colorful pedal setup of the night, and even if he plays most of the instruments himself on much of the Meatbodies album, his backup completely keeps up with him live, their energy pushing him to more furious shredding.

Meatbodies and Purling Hiss just finished up playing a series of shows together on the East Coast. I thoroughly recommend catching one or both of them as they continue along separate itineraries out West. I just hope they play a venue where you can hear them sing.

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