The audience was so sparse all Dave Sardy could do was laugh. The Barkmarket frontman stood at the edge of the Orbit Room stage in late November, staring and smiling slightly at the 15 or so boys--and they were truly boys, kids in backwards baseball caps craving sonic testosterone--and wondering what the hell to do. "This is ridiculous," he half-laughed to himself and the vacant room, and he began bantering with the few stragglers standing at the lip of the stage. Finally, Sardy invited the audience onto the stage, scattering them around the band members; they perched on Rock Savage's drum riser, sat at the feet of Dave Sardy and bassist John Nowlin, shuffled aimlessly around the still-uncrowded dais like extras in a video. It was a bizarre sight, a band making the best of the worst kind of situation.
Despite the turnout that wasn't, Barkmarket burned, seethed, rocked as though the place was filled and then some. Sardy, Nowlin, and Savage performed their brand of noise--and, now, freaky slide-blues, as evidenced by the set's first song, "The Visible Cow" off the soon-to-be-released L. Ron--with startling intensity, burying punk melodies and Beat lyrics underneath feedback and distortion. They shouted, screamed, howled, boogied, harnessed a rare energy, and made music out of the most raw ingredients. They took muscle and gave it flesh, took a dead corpse and gave it hot breath.
For a long time, Barkmarket was a studio band: Sardy's a creature of technology, using microphones and mixing boards as other musicians use guitars and drums. They're his instruments, forcing an unheard sound out of a drum kit by miking it from 20 different angles. Sardy manages to make a three-piece sound like a marching band, turning it up and inside-out until the individual pieces coalesce into a sound so unified it's almost liquid. Sardy's a noise addict, obsessed with the melodies found in static and the way words sound when strung together for nothing more than lurid effect.
Whenever Barkmarket used to perform live, the subtleties of the songs would get lost in the muddy mix, yet somewhere along the way, the band has learned to temper the mania and clear away the murk and let the songs reveal themselves in the live show. There are definite peaks and valleys, moments when the songs become inexplicably catchy and others when they're terrifying. Nowlin's bass now sounds like a second guitar, and Savage attacks the drums like a refugee from George Clinton's punk side project. Sardy chews his words and spits them out like broken teeth, no matter how many people are around to listen.
Barkmarket will perform with Seven Year Bitch March 15 at the Orbit Room. REO Speedealer opens.