You could read Santo’s Party Lounge on October 13 as a high school basement rock party. Opening, you had Juiceboxxx, the middle schooler rapping over a 4/4 beat and power chords, shirtless beneath a denim jacket, and getting by mostly on stubborn exuberance and the moves of Roger Daltry. Headlining, you had JEFF the Brotherhood, the dudes in college who’ve returned burdened with seriousness and an exuberant fog machine. And then, in the middle, you’ve got Diarrhea Planet, the high schoolers, I guess, with the name left over from their first jam in 5th grade and all of that “aw shucks” gleaming-eyed wonderment still solidly intact but updated with guitar geek shreddery. “Does this please you?” guitarist-singer Evan Bird asked the audience at one point after one of the epic bouts of that shreddery that ends pretty much every song. And the answer, of course, was yes. Because Diarrhea Planet is pretty much straight-up Planet Fun.
There are many kinds of fun in the world, of course, and quite a lot of them are pretty age-specific. Diarrhea Planet writes great songs that rope together a number of subtly different sub-genres of rock music, but their genius – what makes them one of the best live bands you can do yourself the favor of seeing – is that their brand of fun, by fusing both the unabashedly childish and the legitimately adult, delivers shows that feel for all the world to me like the glowing, pure-heart core of rock music itself. You’d have to either a) hate guitars or b) hate smiles to not be won over by this band.
And I don’t mean “childish” as in puerile or inane or even silly. I mean “childish” as in pure, unalloyed, fill-up-your chest pleasure. As in running-through-the-summertime-sprinkler pleasure (or, maybe, running-through-the-summertime-sprinkler-drunk-&-naked pleasure). How many times in your life, for instance, have you watched a musician headbang through a solo and then raise to the crowd a grimace like he’s just suffered colon surgery or a noble sneer like he’s Marx presenting The Communist Manifesto to the Czar’s court? And now consider how many times you have seen somebody fall to his knees at the edge of the stage, whip his hair into a blur while ripping through some riffage, and then look up with the innocent grin of an overachiever who just won the school spelling bee. Or consider how many times you’ve watched a Random Joe, looking for all the world like he’s just left his bad temp job and untucked his shirt as the sole concession to the club, raise his ax and finger-tap something like pop-music Iron Maiden, a look of delighted bewilderment lighting up his face. Because that’s what Jordan Smith and Emmett Miller, two more guitarist-singers in the band (they have four) gave the crowd on Monday night.
The crowd loved it, of course. A bunch of dudes and a bunch of chicks were there for them, not JEFF, and they threw their metal horns and fists in the air, crowd surfed, head banged and cheered and jumped around. The band returned heroic guitar poses and solos that climbed toward the exulted and head banging over fingers carving riffs, obviously aware that focusing on how much damn fun – rather than how cool – all of those things are is the way to win a loyal audience. And in that communication, the room created together a mighty fine example of one of the core joys of rock and roll. Because in addition to the strength and defiance, the ass shaking and catharsis, available in rock, one of its great contributions to society is the way it lets crowd and performer join forces to build raucously together something far greater than the sum of its parts. Diarrhea Planet can’t live on its records they way it lives on stage, and the crowd can’t generate the kind of pleasure on display Monday night listening to their stereos. I go to the opera and the symphony and I have a good time, but they don’t make my chest vibrate or my soul come unburdened in the way a kickass rock show before a hungry-for-it crowd does. There’s such a unique joy in that, one that we could use a lot more of in a culture that carries TVs with it on its phones.
And Diarrhea Planet delivers that. That fact that they deliver it as such thunderous plain-and-simple, unadulterated, fun makes them one of the best bands touring today. They’re pure love, straight up.