Trans Am, Oneida / The Fucking Champs

May 23 / May 27

Lots going on this week for fans of denatured guitar rock. First up, headlining the Ridglea Theater on Friday night, is Trans Am, three zany Washington, D.C., gearheads who've spent six albums figuring out how to best emasculate that form. They used to do it by laughing with it: The band's 1996 self-titled debut is a fairly straight-faced run through some surplus riff-rock moves Boston and ZZ Top never got around to using, as much a legitimate display of technical prowess as an excuse to indulge in inside jokes about beards and codpieces (and, naturally, muscle cars). The group's subsequent couple of records gradually introduced various stiff-lipped synth elements to the sound, so that by 1999's Futureworld, the band was pumping its carburetor with as much Kraftwerk as Jefferson Starship (two bands long denied a meeting by history's cruel hand). Yet despite the increasingly flamboyant sonics of their records, the band kept up the poker face, inviting us to re-examine what we'd originally written off as bad taste and rock out with, well, our penises out.

By comparison TA, Trans Am's latest, is a laugh riot, an explicitly silly '80s-styled pastiche of "Axel F" keyboards, "Rockit" drum patterns and Thomas Dolby vocals--basically the blow-dryed acme the band has been hurtling toward since its beginning, only now the band is laughing at its material instead of with it. In terms of emasculation, it works like a dream, the guitars almost entirely defanged to sound like Miami Vice sirens and the goofiness the ultimate antidote to sober prog theatricality. But the '80s thing, so exciting and fertile in the hands of New York's Fischerspooner and England's Zoot Woman, sounds pretty warmed over here, and the songs are anemic where they used to be full-bodied, robust even. A bit blinded by science, these arch absurdists. Can't imagine anything that could blind openers Oneida, a Brooklyn outfit so cloaked in its own tar-thick riff-rock fumes its worldview couldn't possibly get any foggier. On a pair of LPs for Indiana's Jagjaguwar label--2000's Come on Everybody Let's Rock and last year's Anthem of the Moon--these stoners sketched out a viable continuation of the MC5/Stooges resurrection, thanks in no small part to their sweetly deranged psychedelic streak and their incendiary live show, which, unlike most of Brooklyn's MC5/Stooges contingent, is actually about more than mussed hair--though there's that, too, along with totally drunken prog theatricality.

Details

Trans Am and Oneida perform May 23 at the Ridglea Theater. The Fucking Champs perform May 27 at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios.

Much more of that at Rubber Gloves on Monday night, though it's doubtful San Francisco's Fucking Champs could pull off their unapologetically technical heavy metal if they'd actually been drinking alcohol. Like early Trans Am, the Champs play their serpentine riffs with straight faces and furrowed brows, taking pleasure in the music as a part of the music: IV, their 2000 Drag City disc, might be the most serious music yet made by a former member of teen-age agitprop act the Nation of Ulysses, with whom Champ Tim Green played guitar. On their new V, the Champs play it just as wholeheartedly, peeling off triumphant guitar solo after triumphant guitar solo, meticulously thrashing their way down a stairway to hell. Still, this isn't your uncle's speed metal. The band employs no bass player (making the thick-neck grind favored by nü-metal enthusiasts an impossibility), and their song titles speak louder than System of a Down's lyric sheet: "Hats off to Music," "Crummy Lovers Die in the Grave," "Chorale Motherfucker." Just don't use the I-word. "I think what people are calling irony these days is nothing more than bet-hedging," guitarist Josh Smith told me last year. "Our aesthetic existing squarely outside the current wuss hegemony has led to some confusion about our intentions, but I assure you that they're the best."

 
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