top: Venus Flytrap; bottom: Alamo Race Track (Photo By John Anderson)
Amsterdam CallingFriends, Friday, March 19
What is it with bands that don't rock? It's one thing to be all fretful and atmospheric, but for your songs to be boring and never even show much in the way of vital signs ... that's something else entirely. The Hague's Venus Flytrap played the moody card all night, and whenever they appeared to be on the verge of rawk, your hopes were dashed once more. Faintly psychedelic songs opened with tape loops or samples at times, but never quite gelled into anything memorable. One guitar player used that Eighties tool, the EBow (which activates individual strings magnetically rather than with a pick) for a druggy effect, but it didn't add up to much. Amsterdam's Alamo Race Track, on the other hand, does rock. Brittle and discordant riffs play off melodic vocals, with the guitar players using the tonal contrast of Gibson and Fender guitars to good advantage. Their chunky, pounding intensity calls to mind Jesus Lizard or Jawbox, with a power and gravity the opening band never quite mustered up. Closer "Tell Me What Is Going On" hit a double-time tempo with an urgency that wrapped up their set like a nice little package of arsenic. Veterans Heideroosjes (hi-der-roo'-shes) from the Netherlands have been doing their punk thing since '89 and pretty well leveled the place when they took over. Rather than relentless express-train thrash, they write in some peaks and valleys, with short, pugnacious lead singer Marco bellowing about "Scapegoat Revolution" and other vaguely political topics. True to their roots, there's a song dedicated to the Ramones (complete with "gabba gabba heys") and a number that translates roughly as "Drop Dead," which could pass for a Minor Threat song. By the end of the set, the singer was exhorting the Sixth Street crowd from a window, the bass player was up on top of the PA cabinets, and an anonymous punk rocker was cavorting around onstage. They burn more calories and write better songs than the standard-issue American punk band, and blew the first two bands right out the front door. Now there's
a lesson in how to rock.