The drive to The Conservatory--a small, dank, but charming club in Oklahoma City--on Tuesday (May 25th) sure was one vexing omen. Recent inclement weather inundated the area with massive orbs of hail. Seemingly every car in the area had its windows absolutely destroyed, and the same can be said, sadly, of some of the apartments in the area. I was going to see Nobunny, who, later that evening, delivered one of the most downright fun concert performances I have ever witnessed. Decked in only a borderline creepy bunny mask, a ridiculously short jean jacket (clearly tailored for a woman), and his sexy underwear, Nobunny frontman Justin Champlin commanded the stage like a slightly more sane version of Iggy Pop during the last days of The Stooges. Though only fifty people or so were there, I guarantee you nobody in attendance will ever forget their performance. But it wasn't Nobunny who decided to slice away parts of my ear drums this night; no, it was their opener, the Norman, Oklahoma act Shitty/Awesome, who audibly delivered on the hailstrom whose carnage I witnessed on my way to the club.
My first experience with Shitty/Awesome came in mid-March. They were opening for one of my favorite new groups, the Vivian Girls, as well as recent Pitchfork darlings Male Bonding, at The Opolis in Norman. I only arrived at the show early because I just HAD to see a band called Shitty/Awesome on general principle. Much to my pleasant surprise, I quite enjoyed what I heard. Will, the group's lead singer and guitarist, has a voice instantly reminding me of Alan Vega from Suicide or David Thomas from Pere Ubu (Will tells me he has The Cramps' Lux Interior in mind as well when he sings). Musically, the group was a slightly accessible throwback to New York's late-1970s' No Wave scene with goth, shoegaze, and rockabilly overtones. In other words, this was music totally geared for me! The group was selling a cassingle at their merch-table for a mere pittance ($3 maybe?). Despite my extreme dislike of cassettes, I bought it anyway (and, hell, it was limited to only 50 copies). And, as an added bonus, I think it made me say the word "cassingle" out loud in public for the first time since the early 1990s, when I purchased DNA (no, the other DNA) featuring Suzanne Vega's cassingle for "Tom's Diner." Since I actually drive a car from the early 1990s, which still has a tape deck in it, I threw that puppy in the player and loved what I heard. Both songs ("Say So" and "Shreds") were practically inaudible and quite hard on the ears. I mean this in the most complementary way!
In the song "Heavy Duty" by Spinal Tap, David St. Hubbins sings, "I just want to make some eardrums bleed." Well, Shitty/Awesome damn-near made mine explode Tuesday night in The Conservatory, a cavernous place where, in October of last year, The Melvins made sure my tinnitus would never go away by making it twice as bad. What makes Shitty/Awesome so shitty or awesome (at least they give you the choice!) is their unusual stage presence and their blend of musical influences. Lead singer Will rarely looks at the crowd, his microphone titled down at a forty-five degree angle, insuring that he looks up. He jabs at this guitar like he is trying to swat a fly. Their drummer, Travis, immediately reminds one of the Bobby Gillespie era of The Jesus and Mary Chain; well, that is if Bobby's heroin had been switched to crystal meth straight outta Perry, Oklahoma. He plays a small kit, his bass drum positioned behind him (which is a fairly unusual drum kit set up), allowing him the freedom to bang away at the snare with a piston-like precision. Their guitarist Derek also rarely faces the crowd, his back generally toward the audience. The most exciting member of the group on stage is the bassist Joey, who plays with the energy of an NFL middle linebacker tackling The Who's John Entwistle. Together, their look is as dissonant as their sound. Derek is pure indie-rock, Will a less-sequined Elvis Presley, and the rhythm section, some ten minutes into their set, are costumed in pure sweat.
Musically their set resembles air slowly being leaked out of a massive balloon. Anchored by the rhythm section, who are actually quite tight, Will's spikey guitar and manic vocal approach, combined with Derek's purposefully noisy lead lines, pack quite a punch. Their microphones have an inordinate amount of echo on them, so even when they talk between sets, or try to help you out by telling you the names of their songs, there is little chance you will pick them up. So I cannot report to you that "this song" was epic or "that song" lagged. Simply put, their entire set must be taken as a one wall of dance-able white noise jam-packed with old- to middle-school rock n' roll fury. As Will tells me, "All of our songs are about sex or killing yourself." And, really, that's all you need to know about how AWESOME Shitty/Awesome is.
They are slated to release their first 7" this summer. It will contain four tracks and will be released by Guestroom Records.
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