Last night, in a concrete pop-up dive with a Christmas ornament for a mirrored ball, I witnessed all that is good about rock and roll.
The band I went to see, the Stay-at-Home Dads, are probably unaware that they nailed it so splendidly. It’s likely that they’ll rehearse a few more times and screw it all up. But last night, they embodied flawed, incendiary beauty that stands in direct spite of perfection.
This was the inaugural gig for the Dads, who comprise Joe on guitar and vocals, Alex on guitar, and Spencer on drums. I didn’t know what to expect from them. Thankfully, they kept me and the audience in that state all through their set. Even the band, perhaps, didn’t know what was coming next, as they mounted a scorched-earth campaign through their tightly-crafted original songs. I was happy to see that they didn’t fret over tidy endings to their songs; they just stopped when they were done.
Joe’s rapid, stainless steel patter, pierced now and then with a punctuating shriek, confidently rose above the guitars and drums. They had rehearsed only 2 or 3 times, so Joe called out changes to Spencer. Joe and Alex locked into the new groove while Spencer shifted gears on his jackhammer, then they were off again into the campaign.
Joe and his cohorts did this unrelentingly, him shouting out tempo or pattern changes, then bringing everyone back to center. Like in all the best jazz or poetry or sex—it is rock and roll, after all–each of them found the new rhythm and locked in. And, damn, did they forevermore lock in.
Changeups like this are required for jam bands, who work in a long format that has been honored by time if not by good taste. However, the Dads’ 2 or 3 minute songs were far too intense for such pointless noodling. These changeups were fast, furious, and wonderfully compact.
Between songs, Joe cultivated attitude from the audience, calling names and serving notice to those in attendance. “Pay attention,” he admonished us one moment. “I hope you brought your earplugs,” he sympathized in the next.
With the borrowed equipment—Joe had to call the amp and effects owner onstage to twiddle some knobs—and faulty microphone stands—Joe had to bellow from a quarterback’s crouch during some songs—augmented by sweat, volume, and sarcasm, it was a perfect night. Perfect because it was fearless, grounded in confident “oneness” with one’s instrument, understanding that if you maintain that connection, then it’s all going to be good.
It was well beyond good, well beyond awesome in fact. It was thick with fun: aggression well-played, personality irresistible, and the unbeatable combination of reckless abandon and congenial what-the-hell.
Rock and roll is at its best when it is careening on the edge of a precipice. The Dads let it dangle a time or two, but it was rescued by the updraft from their adrenaline. Is there a better safety net?
(Note: the erstwhile Dads have morphed into LEAN, probably to avoid warrants or collectors. Check them out here.)