Last Night: No Age, Total Abuse and Rene Hell at Sons of Hermann Hall

No Age, Total Abuse and Rene Hell
January 10, 2011
Sons of Hermann Hall

Better than: making the trek to The Smell for such an eclectic, entertaining bill.

No Age
No Age
David Wilson

Whether the folks that showed up to last night's show were new to No Age or "long-time" fans of the act's 2007 Fat Cat debut, the Los Angeles band played an excellent assortment of its material to date, drawing pretty evenly from all three full-length releases.

For those not familiar with No Age, the duo (a trio now live, with an added performer on gadgets) really sets a high bar when it comes to raw, emotional -- sometimes downright visceral -- performances.

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Last night's show was no exception. But what made the night really great were the equally powerful sets from both opening acts.

The mood of the evening seemed a bit celebratory, with a very cozy, lingering holiday vibe, what with the freezing temps outside, everybody bundled up in their pea coats, hats and scarves, and standing around a Christmas tree. (The venue still had its Christmas lights and décor up, including a towering decorated tree to the right of the stage.) Dean Spunt, No Age's drummer and lead vocalist, even acknowledged the feeling at one point, telling the crowd, "Merry Christmas, thanks for having us," during some between-song banter.

Before that, though, the night got off to an interesting, exhilarating start as Rene Hell sent waves and ripples of sound over the crowd of 70-odd early-arriving showgoers. On stage the act's set-up was simple -- one guy stood masked in shadows behind a small array of electronic equipment. After spending several years of releasing music under monikers like Secret Abuse, Rainbow Blanket, Impregnable and Marble Sky, Rene Hell is the newest project of experimental noise/synth guru Jeff Witscher. Last night, as Rene Hell, his sonic soundscapes -- from deep bass to low bubbling to high buzzing -- all had a very organic, yet sleek, for lack of a better word, futuristic feel, especially as the layers of blips, bleeps and manipulated sounds whirled back-and-forth from the left to right speakers. (Listen to Porcelain Opera, his 2010 debut on Type Records, here as a free stream))

Next up, Austin's not-that-experimental experimental punk/hardcore outfit Total Abuse came on. And, almost immediately, the act won the crowd over -- paradoxically -- with the band's off-putting stage presence. While one guitarist stood strumming shoe-gaze still, the rest of the band took turns bursting with movement and emotion. Meanwhile, the frontman stood grumbling, panting and screaming into the microphone, while blankly looking over the audience in what I'd call an empty, accusatory stare. It was oddly intoxicating.

But it was still not comparable to the performance of the headliners.

As No Age came onto the stage at Sons, it lit up with colorful video projections as the opening beats of "Life Prowler" started pumping out of the monitors, sounding every bit as power-packed, epic and transcendent as it does on record.

Next, the band launched into "Teen Creeps."

"Wash away what we create!!" Spunt sang, as the guys at the front near the stage pumped their fists and sang along.

Spunt seemed encouraged, egging on the audience -- "Let's get fucking weird, man!" -- before jumping right into another track. Between most songs, Dean or guitarist Randy Randall would toss out similar remarks.

But it was the killer screaming riff of "Fever Dreaming" that birthed the night's first churning pit -- the first of many, it would turn out.

Fans of No Age have come to expect a kinda bare-bones DIY stage show, but this time the band had a whole video/visual presentation to accompany the songs. Thankfully, the video didn't distract from the band's performance but rather complemented and intensified the whole experience. Also, having a third man onstage helped. The new guy, Facundo Bermudez, was standing behind a tangled mess of chords and boxes.

In all, it was a great night of unforgettable performances all around.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
No Age is probably my favorite "rock" act.

Random Note: After the show, Spunt and Randall both remarked about how great the sound was in Sons. Thank God for venues with so much wood in 'em.

By the way: Parade of Flesh brought Dallas a great bill, and I wish there were more shows like it near downtown -- as opposed to say having to drive to Denton house shows or 1919 Hemphill or, I guess, The Smell in Los Angeles.

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