Thank god for music that doesn't weigh on you like a guilty conscience. Local bands like Zen Guerrilla, the Flakes, and the Pattern strip rock back to the fundamental basics, fusing bluesy melodies, hip-grinding rhythms, and pounding beats into a sound that plays equally well at afternoon barbecues and nightclubs.
According to Andy Asp, guitarist for the Pattern, the resurgence of the good-time garage music is part of a larger craving. "There's definitely a kind of rock revival now," he says, drinking a pint with the band's singer, Chris Appelgren, in the back yard of the Zeitgeist bar. "It's cyclical. In the [early] '90s there was [hard, heavy rock from bands like] Mudhoney. Then everybody in the indie world was so into [post-rock act] Tortoise and math rock -- this really cerebral music. Now, all of a sudden, it's like we want to go out, get drunk, rock out, and not have to pay that much attention."
Asp isn't just talking about the rowdy stuff -- his band creates it. The Pattern's particular brand of noise is something Appelgren calls "punk rock boogie": short-fused, firecracker songs sizzling with guitar effects and a playful dose of pop. The music is a mix of the best elements of the Stooges' self-centered immediacy, the New York Dolls' trashy vocal theatrics, and the Rolling Stones' take-it-easy attitude.
While the Pattern may not be reinventing the E chord, its agenda for fun is infectious enough to give rock a swift kick in the ass. Its secret formula is not so secret: call yourself a party band, never take the music too seriously, enlist a captivating singer, and write high-energy songs that don't rely on the usual tired topics.
Asp stresses the last point in particular, complaining about the current abundance of trashy punk acts: "There are some bands -- to put it diplomatically, bands of the Northwest -- that have this whole idea that every song should be about broken bottles, wrecking trucks, and rocking out. Chris writes really weird songs that aren't about scratching on the eight ball."
Instead of featuring simple broads and ample booze, Appelgren's lyrics are about normal situations with abnormal twists, like a girl who bakes cakes "on the back of a gun," a boy who pleads for love and breakfast, and a detective case where melted jewelry may go up the nose. Even the age-old theme of lost love is given a unique spin in "Untold": "Your eyes don't shine/ Your feet don't smell the same."
Jordan Kurland, owner of Zeitgeist Artist Management and co-producer of the Noise Pop festival, calls the Pattern's sound and mentality "very fresh." He invited the group to play Noise Pop this past spring after hearing its demo. "The music grabbed me immediately and it didn't take itself too seriously, which I liked," he says.
Kurland burned the band's demo for Mark Bowen and Dick Green, the heads of British label Wichita Recordings. (Green also ran the infamous Creation label with Alan McGee.) The two industry heavies met with Kurland while in town for Noise Pop. "They were totally floored," Kurland says. "They really liked it and sent me an e-mail when they got back, saying, "This is brilliant.'"
While it's uncertain which label will release the Pattern's debut album domestically, Wichita plans to put out its debut EP, Immediately, in the U.K. When asked about the newest name on his roster, Bowen responds via e-mail: "They embody everything that is true and righteous in rock 'n' roll. We know they've got the soul."
The EP's release couldn't be better timed for the Oakland/San Francisco quintet, which takes its soul to the British Isles this fall for the prestigious Reading Festival. The event occurs in late August, with the Pattern joining over 80 different artists, ranging from Iggy Pop and PJ Harvey to Marilyn Manson and Eminem. Following the festival the Pattern embarks on a minitour of the country and then heads to New York for the CMJ Festival. Not bad for a group that wasn't supposed to last more than a summer.
Last July, former St. James Infirmary guitarist Jason Rosenberg wanted to form a band to play Oakland punk rock parties. He called some guys he knew from the local rock scene -- Asp (Nuisance), Appelgren (Peechees), bassist Carson Bell (Cutz), and drummer Jim Anderson (Blackfork) -- and the Pattern was born. "Because we were all so busy -- with work, other bands, our lives -- the original idea was that we were just going to have fun for the summer," says Rosenberg from his office as a graphic designer for Alternative Tentacles Records. "We'd get together, drink beer, write songs, and play some parties. The plan was to play July through September and that was it, because I think I had only written six or seven songs at that point."
Four weeks after that first practice, the band started playing live. Rosenberg says the fledgling fivesome has performed an average of five shows a month over the past year, playing everywhere from the Bottom of the Hill to house parties in Portland to a gig at South by Southwest -- all booked on word-of-mouth and the popularity of singles released on Gearhead, Alternative Tentacles, and GSL.
Rosenberg, Appelgren, and Asp downplay any future goals of success, but the truth is that they did send out the demo tape in hopes of landing a spot at Reading and they do have plans to record new material in September. Most important, they put a hell of an effort into live shows, which are the cornerstone of the Pattern party.
To a large extent, Appelgren's onstage temper tantrums are the band's big drawing point. Give the guy a mike and his mild manner turns gleefully bratty, as he shows off his inner exhibitionist with a healthy dose of humor.
At a recent Great American Music Hall gig, Appelgren took the stage with swaggering hips, grabbing the mike stand like a blow-up doll and humping it silly. Over the course of the set, he threw his thumb in his mouth, wet his lips, caressed the mike, and gave himself a spanking. Watching Appelgren is like seeing a hyper punk misfit get confused about whether he wants to get laid or be babied, or both.
"When I play live, I kind of feel like I have to justify why I'm in front of people," he explains with a grin. "So it boils down to me doing stuff that's not so easy to do in everyday life and presenting a really exaggerated version of myself, embarrassing myself as much as possible and being as vulnerable as I can. There's an attitude and a sexuality to it that I can't express in everyday life."
Appelgren's expressions come in very short bursts -- it's a Pattern rule that no show last much longer than a half hour. The reason behind this performance brevity differs, depending on which band member you ask.
"People go see Olympic weightlifting and they don't expect the guy to hold the weight up for an hour," says Asp. "People have fun at our shows because they get really short sets that are quality over quantity."
Resident spaz Appelgren gets a little less metaphorical in his reasoning: "I think we would explode if we tried to play for an hour. Usually it ends up being around 45 minutes and I'm exhausted at the end of it."
So the boys get tired. Give them a break. You would too if you were trying to remedy the scowling face of local music. In the end, the Pattern's punk rock boogie is just what the Bay Area needs to remind it how to have fun. After all, it's pretty hard to stand with your arms crossed when someone's screaming and spanking himself over his ex-lover's smelly feet.