Monday, September 21, 2009

Live: Naked Raygun

When: 9/12/09
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

The number of early American hardcore bands reuniting got silly a few years ago. But as silly as it seems, for those of us who were in kindergarten or perhaps just a twinkle in our parents' eyes back in punk's heyday, it's a chance to glimpse a little of what we missed. And one of the bands I'm happiest I've had the chance to see is Chicago's Naked Raygun.

Of the many reunions I've seen, Naked Raygun seems to be one of the closest to their youthful punk origins. The band's only consistent member was only ever singer Jeff Pezzati, joined now on stage by three former Naked Raygun members from the tail end of the band's original lifetime. More melodic than most of their fellow hardcore bands, but as confrontational as any, Naked Raygun stand out in a generation of sound-alikes. Their tunefulness would be echoed on the West Coast a few years later by poppy punk-revival bands like Jawbreaker and Pennywise, but their aggressive, controversial politics set them apart from those groups as well.

Many of the 80's indie bands reunited have grown up; even most of those who still rock hard (X, Dinosaur Jr, etc.) seem more settled - just as you'd expect after twenty or thirty years. Naked Raygun, however, hardly seems to have grown up at all. Pezzati, whose personality has always defined the band, still looks like a gangly teenage punk. While at least three of the four current members - including Pezzati - have kids, they don't seem to have moved along with the rest of their generation from rebels to members of the Establishment; I bet they'd fit in better with today's nineteen-year-olds than with their fellow forty-somethings (or is it already fifty-somethings?). Aside from some apparent stiffness in the joints of the rhythm section and a few gray hairs, you wouldn't know more than two decades had elapsed since the band's peak.

Pezzati, the rare punk singer who can actually sing, was in top form, cutting loose his ambitious melodies, crouching and snarling, bouncing and hollering, like a punk singer should. He liked to give the audience a turn in the mic too. Guitarist Bill Stephens was just as lively, rocking out on a Flying V that met with the crowd's approval when Pezzati asked if it was "too rock'n'roll." Stephens is as accomplished a guitarist as Pezzati is a singer, showing punk doesn't have to be without musical skill to be legit.

The band played an excellent mix of old and new songs, but there might have been too much new if it were not for the fact that the band's recent pieces match the quality of their earlier work one-hundred percent. There isn't a noticeable stylistic departure in their newer material either. It's just more of the same kind of hard-edged anthem fans have loved since the band's beginnings.

It may not be Chicago, it may not be 1985, but it's closer than I ever expected to get.

No comments: