4/30/08 Jay Reatard @ Mercy Lounge, Nashville, Tenn.

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Jay Reatard (pronounced Ree-ah-tard) played through an incessant, homegrown set of garage-rock at Mercy Lounge Wednesday night, with exceptional efficiency. The set hardly lasted over half an hour with barely enough time between songs for a 1-2-3-4!-count and a loogie.Jay Reatard (pronounced Ree-ah-tard) played through an incessant, homegrown set of garage-rock at Mercy Lounge Wednesday night, with exceptional efficiency. The set hardly lasted over half an hour with barely enough time between songs for a 1-2-3-4!-count and a loogie. While the short gaps conserved little real-time, the effect was very powerful, sustaining the audience’s focus on three gnarly dudes. The essence of Jay Reatard’s set revealed efficient sound, fierce stage presence and horrible hair.

Researching the punk genre is like turning over a stone in damp woods: a multitude of specimen crawls out-they loathe exposure and opt to stay underground. So saying this band sounded like The Ramones is not only pretty accurate, but also a gesture to the roly-polies. Jay Reatard is somewhere around the 8th outfit for singer Jay Lindsey, a buff in the Memphis garage-rock scene (boasting its own festival: Gonerfest).

The band embraces more artistic-less political-punk pretensions, along the same lines as minimalists Wire and Devo. Sounding like a Wire song, “Not a Substitute” refused bass till the chorus and barely employed drums except for time-keeping on the snare; and absolutely no guitar solos. Show closer “Waiting for Something” involved a catchy bass line matched with trademark Devo vocals, which borrowed the vocal tone of Marvin the Martian; like when he says, “Take me to your leader.”

On a personal level, some of their songs evoke the crises of teenage 80’s horror flicks, packing in the drama of some unlikely hero vowing to defend his friends. “My Shadow” sounded like it could have been straight off the Nightmare on Elm Sreet III: Dream Warriors soundtrack, right after that track by Dramarama.

The band’s stage presence also contributed to their overall presentation. Blasting through his set, Jay barely glimpsed the audience through his wall of hair (not to mention the impropriety of head-banging with one’s eyes open). This also meant the audience never actually saw Jay’s mouth move while he sang either. But bassist Steven Pope literally lip-synched every song, sans microphone, and offered lots of kinetic support, looking very grateful to be playing up there. This was rather ridiculous but also kind of endearing.

As vigorous as the group was, it was hard not to notice certain physical attributes. First off, the hair: Jay sported brown, wet curls identical to those of Weird “Al” Yankovic, the impish drummer styled it the same way but golden-blonde and with bangs, and most noticeable, Pope donned a curly, white boy’s afro larger than a basketball, not to mention some baby-fat.

This Memphis trio totally lacks veneer, a trademark of punk, which is a genre some say is dead. But then again they’ve been honoring mistakenly producing Elvis obituaries in that city for decades.

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