Any review of a No Age show is inevitably going to turn into a review of its crowd. That’s because I’ve always experienced punk shows (and dance music shows) through the bodies of other people. Here, I don’t listen for the emotional resonance of a single violin note or the range in a singer’s voice. I’m seeing how easily I can forget my own self-preservation, how easily I can buy into the logic of smashing yourself clean.
I’ve witnessed No Age on a few occasions at past FYF Fests, the premiere Los Angeles festival that also sponsored last Friday’s show. Those outdoor spectacles, with their huge, dusty mosh pits, were always exciting and destructive. I didn’t know how that would translate to the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock, a venue I’ve enjoyed, but did not think of as a sturdy rock club. The cheap stucco pillars, the plastic tiles from my shitty middle school library – it seemed like we could rip a hole through the building if we tried hard enough.
This was completely unfounded speculation, of course. The CFAER is a great building. Upon second assessment, it’s barely held together and thus charmingly DIY: mobile walls fall over if you lean on them and styrofoam presentation board marks off-limit areas. It was a good context to see No Age, and that’s all you can really ask from a venue.
A great No Age song takes messy, exorcising noise and sculpts it. There are plenty of times when they let it loose into a maelstrom, but it’s always with purpose. They are explosive at the right times. At a show you are as part of those songs as an audience can get without picking up an instrument. The ones that are the most fun to be part of are the ones with variable tempos, like “Ripped Knees”, which allow you a breather in-between the outbursts. “Glitter” is another live gem, which sports an upswing into the chorus that serves as a gratifying second wind that gets the elbows throwed.
But the critical mass of violence occurred at “Brain Burner,” their blistering album ender from 2008’s Nouns. The heavyweights took on the role of the pistons the grotesque mosh-engine that the song inspired, and the rest of us just sort of surrendered to it. It’s not their loudest song, but it’s their hardest driving, and for those few minutes we were just swept up in the inertia.
A word about the audience: they all seemed pretty cool. It was diverse in age and ethnicity and dotted all along the spectrum between punk and hipster (I wore a pull over sweater to the show just in case you want to know where I fall in that range.) But when you’re not in the thick of it, the pit seemed small, around 4 rows deep. Maybe that’s an effect of the venue’s elongated shape. You really noticed the size of it when someone tried to crowd surf and instantly ran out of room. A girl almost landed on the top of her head but I think we caught her an inch from the floor.
The show ended without the usual fake out encore that bands do. There wouldn’t really be a point – the night was basically a string of climaxes. To attempt an encore would be breaking the combo. I grabbed a free FYF 2011 poster on my way out. Sweat dripped from the end of my nose when I tried to look down and read it.
Justin Pansacola is a writer living in Los Angeles. At the University of California, Riverside he received his degree in Creative Writing, not English, although he has resigned to the fact that no one cares about the difference. You can follow him on Twitter @wordcore. On some nights he looks up at the moon and wonders if you’re looking at the same moon, too.