Tonight is the night of bad haircuts. There’s the bassist with the frizzed-out white boy Afro. And there’s a whole mess of uncontrolled curls. But who said rock and roll is supposed to be beautiful? Mick Jagger? Fuck Mick Jagger. Music sounds better when it’s snarled, in need of a comb. This evening is showcasing a man who, on his last album cover, stood in his underwear drenched in a bucket of fake blood. That ain’t pretty, but it’s awesome. And Jay Reatard isn’t half bad himself.
Opening for Jay Reatard are locals Private Dancer. This band may have the weakest stage banter ever. Throughout the set, their fuzzy-haired singer enlightens the audience with lurid tidbits such as, "Sweet. Totally sweet," "That was totally awesome," and "I forgot the name of the next band." Private Dancer is also a group that seems best listened to after three shots of whiskey, which is not inherently a bad thing. It just lubricates the veins in preparation for their primitive frenzy. Bare-boned and screaming, Private Dancer sounds like an off-kilter Pavement with cowbell and indulgent wannabe psych jams. "Do You Like to Read" is the hardest rocker in their arsenal-the only discernable lyrics of which are "Fuck yeah/ Oh yeah/ Oh yeah/ Oh yeah/ Fuck yeah," sung while the singer shakes his non-existent ass.
Next is Nashville trio Cheap Time. One-third of the band looks vaguely like a 1970s roadie, one-third like a less drugged out Dee Dee Ramone, and one-third like an indie band poster boy. Their jaunty garage rock has spitfire nasally vocals that sound like that bratty kid in fifth grade. It works, and once you sink into it, those bar chords are addictive-the surf drums even more so. Their brand of basement-dwelling punk strips down the excess leaving only the parts that make you twitch and feel good. Really good. "People Talk" is a good example of the band’s irresistible, shiver-inducing explosions. Dual lyrics are delivered rapidly like a well-oiled muscle car with the pedal to the metal, while two-note guitar riffs carry the tune off to oblivion. It’s not smart music, but it’s efficiently primal, and Cheap Time proves something can be both cheap and top quality.
Jay Reatard blasts through his 11-song set in what feels like 20 minutes, but is probably more like 21. Songs like "Blood Visions," "My Shadow" and "It’s So Easy" are sped up even faster than on the record. With fingers in a blur and feet doing tap dances on his large collection of pedals, it’s nearly impossible to fathom how Jay Reatard even can play his music faster than on Blood Visions. In his fever-pitched fury, the Memphis punker is lost in a mass of long brown hair. And I’m not sure whether it’s sweat or spit, but some kind of liquid is flying off him in massive amounts. Listening to the set feels like a pleasurable electrocution, with sparks shocking synapses and turning the audience into a thickly spasming mass.
Jay Reatard is quickly rising to the top of the indie watch list. This time the hype is warranted. He geniusly blends his delectable, upbeat ragers with macabre lyrics like, "It’s so easy when your friends are dead," and "I won’t stop until you’re dead/ Because of the voices in my head." Unlike forefathers Misfits and The Cramps, Jay Reatard manages to present his mock-horror in a wholly non-campy way. Sure, if you could actually see his eyes behind that mop of hair, he may be spurting the lyrics with a sly wink, but there is a pleasant lack of overacting. Even without his quirky, morbid lyrics, the music is some of the best retro garage out there. Jay Reatard will get his 15 minutes of fame, but let’s hope it’s probably more like 16.