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Mad as hell, in triplicate

San Diego's the Locust and Cattle Decapitation and Rhode Island's Daughters rouse a Knitting Factory crowd.

March 30, 2007|Greg Burk | Special to The Times

Today's protest music ain't pretty. Talk about "If I Had a Hammer." Hammers and bells abound, bro, but not too many songs to sing.

From the first blast, even if the words weren't clear, the danger and warning were right in your face as two bands from San Diego's thriving extreme music/metal scene -- the Locust and Cattle Decapitation -- machined Hollywood's Knitting Factory on Wednesday night along with Rhode Island's Daughters.

Shrink-wrapped in Spider-Man costumes, erupting into arrhythmic bursts of wound-up hostility and barking out snot-encrusted imprecations on cultural co-optation ("God Wants Us All to Work in Factories"), headliner the Locust dared the crowd to hate it. The sold-out mob had been waiting two years, though, for bassist Justin Pearson, guitarist Bobby Bray, synthist Joseph Karam and drummer Gabe Serbian to deliver their just-released suite of grating tone poems, "New Erections," and fists pumped along with every jolt.

It's rare that an American audience responds so rabidly to music this abstract; the connection wasn't so much brotherly union as telepathic contact among prisoners in separate cells. Backdropped by a drapery of a sci-fi city, the Locust kept the jerk-and-scream format from wearing thin with interludes of wordless, percussionless noise textured by Karam's radical knobsmanship. This is an art band, not a rock band.

Opener Cattle Decapitation, a headliner-quality ensemble in its own right, is more of a rock band. But only a little more -- the Cattle quartet has shared members with the Locust, it has laid down musique concrete features on its recordings, and frontman Travis Ryan is half of the harrowing noise duo Reflektionen Musique. Onstage, handsome beatnik Ryan came off like a disturbed drama student, dumping water over his head and flourishing arms in Shakespearean declamation as he split vocal modes between authoritative low roar and manic high shriek; this vegetarian's main concerns are animal cruelty, overpopulation and pollution. (Sample album title: "Humanure.")

Cattle Decap's tense riffs and stop-and-start structures maintained penetrating drive thanks to the rolling, thundering drums of Mike Laughlin, who, along with booming, bush-chinned bassist Troy Oftedal, dominated the instrumental sound in a mix that underserved the technical shreddations of shave-domed guitarist Josh Elmore. Magnificent washes of vocal effects highlighted "Alone at the Landfill," an ambitious epic dirge from last year's "Karma.Bloody.Karma" CD that speaks well for the band's continuing growth.

Second up, Daughters reeked with village-idiot appeal. Lank in wife-beater undershirt and white pants, the obsessively tattooed Lex Marshall wobbled across the boards like a drunken hick, narrating his goofy tales of whatever. The band headbanged with stoned eyes and slack jaws, delivering up simple chopping riffs, cartoony guitar figures and space tweets, kicked along by trashy drums. Good drinkin' music.

The pit responded appropriately: jumping and bashing, bodies flying through the air at head level. (How'd they do that?) In fact, one of this night's signature features was the three entirely different crowd reactions. Daughters: nutso. Cattle Decapitation: standard frenzied circle slamming. The Locust: Insufficient rhythm or continuity for moshing, plus heat exhaustion by night's end, led to persistent random surges that in some way expressed a common attitude of supercharged alienation. In this fragmented world, many people agree on one thing -- they're really, really mad.

Between sets, the DJ team of Paula Poundstone and Dan Dismal mixed pure noise with the fiddling of Charlie Daniels. Genius.

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