LIVE: Royal Headache, Chop Suey, Seattle, WA

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By Gabriel Mathews

I hope I can be forgiven for expecting something a little more frightening from VHS’s opening set at Chop Suey on Monday. Their name does, after all, stand for “Violent Human System,” a name which like, say, High-Functioning Flesh or Criminal Code or Stoic Violence implies some sort of disturbed intensity and perverse anger that was not present on stage with the sleeveless RUN-DMC tees in VHS. Their frontman, who actually drums for Criminal Code and whose name I’m having a damn hard time tracking down, wears his bleach-blond bowl cut in direct homage to Greg Sage, a comparison that has clearly been made many a time. That said, if there’s any great PNW band that hasn’t been ripped off enough, it’s Wipers, and VHS actually do a pretty good job of it, though they need two guitars to pull of what Sage did with one. Bowl-cut’s singing voice is a nasal bellow in Sage’s direct lineage, and his melodic sensibility produces a pretty straight Is This Real? vibe very easily. That said, I don’t want to pigeonhole VHS too hard—they show promise for growth and are clearly skilled musicians, and as I said, more Wipers-apes wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

I’m not sure I can give such credit to Dude York. These guys apparently formed at Whitman College, where if I had to guess they bonded over a shared love of mid-period Weezer and cheap irony. They’re not bad at what they do, and I especially enjoyed when bassist Claire England took over vocals from the unbelievably boyish Peter Richards, whose onstage persona is drenched in the all-too-common-in-Seattle-punk white-boy happy-go-lucky nihilism to the point of alienation at the expense of the music. His heckling of the sparse crowd—“Who’s having a good time?!” “Wow, you guys are all so great!” “Nice physical action! We endorse physicality of all kinds!”—felt so disingenuous and patronizing that I had a bit of trouble staying in the room. Dude York’s songs are tight, their power chords are powerful, and drummer Andrew Hall has some neat tricks up his sleeves. But why should I take a band seriously when it’s clear they have no intention of taking themselves seriously? (All this aside, points for writing a song called “No One In My Life Can Hear Me Scream.”)

Australia’s Royal Headache had just crossed the pond before playing this, the first show of their tour, as frontman Shogun was quick to point out. “I am so fucking jet-lagged,” he said before they even started, and he never really stopped complaining. Tearing out of the gate with “Really In Love,” a highlight from their self-titled debut and then rushing through a few new ones, Shogun and company (Law on guitar, Joe on bass, and Shorty on drums) were a blast for the first ten minutes of their set. Shogun has one of the best voices in punk rock, one which garners him frequent comparisons to such soul greats as Sam Cooke, and which really sets the band apart from other garage-rock clacissists. But he really comes across more as a Robert Pollard imitator on stage, both vocally and physically, with high-kicks and arm-flails abounding. A few songs in, though, it was clear that fatigue was setting in, as he sat down on the cinder-block Shorty used to keep his kick drum in place. Eventually, at Shogun’s request, a stool was brought out for him, and between every song he’d make some comment about how he was too old for this, wanted to do a slow one next, or how he needed a personal trainer.

The set was still a lot of fun—songs like “Down The Lane,” “Psychotic Episode” and the incredible “Girls” still ripped, as did tracks from their forthcoming second album, High, particularly bangers like “Garbage” and the title track. The uniform brown hair/white tee of the band offset the emaciated, shirtless, red-headed Shogun in a nice way that didn’t seem premeditated and added a bit of spectacle even when he was sitting down. But it’s hard for me to swallow a guy saying “This is a song about fake punks” (“Another World”) from a stool. Here’s to hoping Shogun gets his energy back before squandering what ought to be a killer tour.

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