I’ve loved this band since I first saw them live, but the show they played at the Knitting Factory Saturday night was one of their best yet. For those who haven’t seen the Soda Pop Kids, they play music that pitches its tent somewhere near the glam campsite (think New York Dolls, Hollywood Brats, Shady Lady, Geordie). But they have a streak of seventies and eighties rock in there that’s more akin to the fast-paced songs of AC/DC or Brownsville Station, and they play almost exclusively to punk rock audiences.
If I’m making them sound a bit like a conglomeration of influences, that’s unfair. These guys are taking a classic rock sound (by classic, I mean roots rock like Little Richard and Chuck Berry) and putting their own spin on it. They’re masters of an original sound, often fast-paced boogies that suddenly slow down and allow their singer, Jonny, to croon joyfully before ramping things back up and closing out the tunes on a high note.
And his voice was in top form Saturday. He’s got a gleeful hoarseness like none other. Saturday night it was like broken glass–not the kind you’d cut somebody’s face up with, but the fine kind, that Gene Kelly might sprinkle on the floor and do a little soft-shoe tappy toe with. Yet he was also able to peal out a good scream or monkey howl now and again, better than a young David Johansen on “Stranded In the Jungle.” And he made good show–pointing his head this way and that in surprise, jumping out into the audience, his Jeffrey Lee Pierce-esque bangles and baubles swaying to and fro as he rocked each and every one of the audience members.
I love these guys, because they want to pull their audiences with them into the land of rock and roll, and show them a good time. They’re always smiling and laughing, on and off stage, and it’s infectious. Even the relatively staid Tony (of ex-Riffs fame) on bass and Zack (“I’m not dressing up for you fuckers!”) on rhythm geetar cracked up a bit now and again on stage as they saw Johnny and the audience communing.
My only complaint about the show is that, whether because of the sound system or because of the song choice, I didn’t get to hear Devon on lead guitar really branch out. Normally he’s a frenetic player, often wearing rollerskates, while he twiddles the strings for maximum fast awesome rock solos that just kill and get into Maiden/Priest/Mick Ronson territory at times. I didn’t hear as much of that Saturday night as I would have liked to, but this may signal a change in direction for them from less freneticism to more dynamics and vocal-based arrangements.
My hope is that this signals a change in the direction of punk music for the better. Though this is decidedly NOT a punk band, their audiences sported mostly short, multi-colored hair, Germs and Atoms pins, and maybe the occasional Johnny Thunders scarf or two. And their touring partners, the Luxury Sweets, had a similar vibe of “we’re here to rock and rock and rock you” that I found refreshing after seeing so many tired punk bands in my life. There are other bands out there (Apache and the Time Flys come to mind) that are able to do the balls-out-rock thing without a trace of Matt Sorum or Minor Threat in the proceedings, and it would be awesome to see this turn into a full-fledged movement. If more young kids put down the crystal meth and picked up the mascara, I think we’d have a better world!
P.S. For pure punk for pop people, the Power Chords also played very nicely. With fantastic Dickies-esque guitar and vocal harmonies right out of the Undertones or, dare I say it, Screeching Weasel or even Green Day (gasp!), they sounded to my ears like the very best parts of all the Lookout Records bands put together, and then maybe just a bit better than that. That’s probably not what they want to sound like or who inspires them, but I’m not baggin’ on their shit. Harmonies are awesome.