By Gabriel Mathews
So, Orange County is a scary place. It’s like you’ve gone through a timewarp into a John Hughes movie where kids rebel by either growing out or shaving off their hair, making their own clothing, and going to punk shows like this one. Just to get that out of the way.
But anyway, I went to this show pretty much because FIDLAR’s debut album FIDLAR was the soundtrack of my spring. The last semester of college, my friends and I banded around this scrappy punk band’s incredibly tight songs, their ridiculously catchy hooks, their youthful fury and goofiness and sense of endless fun. We did a lot of headbanging in our kitchens and driveways to songs like “No Waves,” “Cheap Beer,” and “5 to 9.” It was endlessly fun—we could not have listened to this album too much, it was impossible.
In a tragic turn, one of these friends moved away, and the others decided to go see the band in Santa Barbara the following night, when I had to work. So it ended up being just me and my girlfriend, cruising down to the OC, through endless semi-urban sprawl, eating some great pupusas, and then hitting up The Observatory.
The Observatory is a pretty rad venue, actually. They’ve got great sound, and a whole tiered amphitheatre type setup where you can be very close to the stage without actually being in the Pit of Death. This is nice when you’re trying to focus on very weird things happen on stage, like a performance by The Garden.
I don’t even think these guys were on the bill until something like the last minute. But thank god they were, because this was one of the most punk rock things I’ve ever witnessed, and it wasn’t even punk rock. It was twin brothers on drums and bass/vocals, wearing matching black turtlenecks, flood pants, and lone dangly earrings, playing songs that averaged at about thirty seconds in length. The bassist stalked around the stage like a deranged duck much of the time, unless he was announcing song titles like “The Life And Times Of The Paperclip” (an instrumental), or grunting nonsense like “Have you ever seen an apple? / Have you ever seen an apple walking around?” (Then he did his best imitiaton.) He also often just grunted meaningless syllables. The drummer occasionally hopped out from behind his kit to prance about like an eight-year-old girl, before getting back on his throne and hitting yet another snare roll. How this band memorized so goddamn many fifteen second songs, I have no idea, but I do know that the one where the bassist kept running back to his amp, making feedback, and then turning to make faces at the audience was probably my favorite. Also, “We Be Grindin’.” That one was real good. At no time did The Garden look like they were having fun, but the audience ate up their Sparks-meets-Death From Above 1979-meets-Whirlwind Heat absurdity.
It’s a good thing, too, because the reserves of entertainment The Garden left in me got me through a horrendously boring set by Meat Market. Seriously, how many of these fucking bands do we need? How many can the planet sustain? Oh, let’s just kind of shout some poppy little hooks while we hit a few straightforward chords and if we smile enough then the crowd will like it, too! I’m all for pop-punk, I’m all for good hooks, I’m all for simple songs, but the lack of artistry Meat Market brought to the genre made them shine even less brightly than most of their dullard peers.
The Orwells fared significantly better. Anything you ever read about this band (at least for the next couple years) will mention their youth. The five boys of The Orwells probably have about six pubic hairs between them, it’s true. What you probably won’t hear is that they’re also evidently quite rich. Dudes hail from some western suburb of Chicago, and have the gear to prove it—Ampeg stacks, Gretsch guitars, a shiny Ludwig drum kit. These lads are not the struggling little punks you might imagine from their music, but I suppose it fits with the pissed rich-kid vibe FIDLAR give off. Anyway, despite their youth and money, The Orwells are actually pretty good. Frontman Mario Cuomo’s name shocked me when I found it on Wikipedia because he looks like a Nordic god, not Rivers’ beefier brother. The guy flailed about the stage like a very very young and drunk Robert Plant (and, according to my friends who caught them in SB, he has the sex appeal, too: lots of young ladies came up on stage to make out with him at that show), and flung his long curly blonde locks about while singing songs about teenage love and teenage drugs. Guitarist Dominic Corso, after slipping out of his checkered Vans, rocked some mean riffs. They closed out their set with a pretty excellent rendition of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” which is hard to pull off. But behind their snazzy gear, it seems The Orwells do, in fact, have some of that desperate energy that served Iggy Pop so well in his early years
“Hi, we’re FIDLAR, F-I-D-L-A-R, it means Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk.” FIDLAR spokesman Zac Carper made this pronouncement no fewer than four times during their manic set. The fans clearly took the mantra at face value—I have never seen so many swan dives into a churning mosh pit. I actually tried to get into that mosh pit, but when it became clear the only way in was leaping off the next level up, I decided to just mosh by myself where I was standing. There was no way not to mosh: “Stoked And Broke,” “Cocaine,” “Max Can’t Surf”—these songs are just too good to not get you riled up. What constantly amazes me about FIDLAR is that, despite all the drugs and drink they seem to be on at all times (bassist Brandon Schwartzel went through at least one bottle of red wine while on stage), they still craft incredibly tight songs with all the moving parts in the right places. This should be the sloppiest band on earth, and yet they play like pros together, and so stand out well above even their less shitfaced peers.
FIDLAR is comprised of Carper, son of famed surfboard designer John, on guitar/vocals, Elvis and Max Kuehn, sons of T.S.O.L. bassist and record producer Greg, on guitar/vocals and drums respectively, and Schwartzel, son of someone named Schwartzel, on bass. Hence my reference to their loadedness above. But FIDLAR’s songs about being too broke to buy even the cheapest beer actually seem to come from an authentic place. Maybe their dads cut them off after finding them “coming down off cheap PCP” one night. In any case, the poverty-stricken image suits them well. If these guys had guitars like The Orwells, I just wouldn’t be able to buy a word they were saying. But instead they have fucked up gear, fucked up faces, and a fucked up mentality to match.
Sadly, FIDLAR didn’t hit my personal favorite song (that would be “5 to 9”) but they did play some diehard-pleasing old ones like “Awkward” and the super-heavy “The Punks Are Finally Taking Acid”. After Schwartzel’s final falsettoed “thank you!” (he did this after every single song), I left largely satisfied. It’d have been more fun if I’d decided to take that dive and hang out with the timewarp OC kids in the pit, and even more fun to have been with my friends up in Santa Barbara the following night. This is music to not be alone to, this is music that demands you scream along into someone’s face. This is some communal shit, and I think FIDLAR actually get that.