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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Hard, fast and furious

Memphis ax man Jay Reatard drives fans at the Echo wild with his punk-garage-new wave breed of unrelenting, no-brakes rock 'n' roll.

August 01, 2008|Jason Gelt | Times Staff Writer

When Jay Reatard rolled through town just four short months ago, he played a low-key secret show at Eagle Rock's down-at-the-heels All Star Lanes bowling alley, preceded by local post-punkers Mika Miko. On Wednesday, as Reatard plugged in his white Flying V guitar on stage at the Echo, eager fans waited in a line that stretched down the block to buy tickets.

Reatard -- whose less confrontational given name is Jay Lindsey -- has been a staple of the Memphis music scene and a lo-fi underground icon since his band the Reatards released their debut album, 1998's "Teenage Hate." But he's reached a new career plateau since going solo and signing a deal with famed indie label Matador Records.

Pre-sales for his recent limited-edition 7-inch single practically shut down the label's website, as thousands of frantic prospective buyers stampeded the site in hopes of acquiring a future collector's item, and fans at Wednesday's concert were no less enthusiastic.

By the time Reatard had amped up and struck the first gut-churning chord of the title track from his 2006 "Blood Visions" album, the atmosphere was thick and muggy with expectation, and Reatard's distinctive hybrid of '70s punk, '60s garage and '80s new wave quickly whipped the crowd into a frenzy.

Within minutes the space directly in front of the stage was transformed into a hyper-aggressive, beer-spilling whirlwind of angry young men.

Reatard has acquired an unfortunate reputation for club violence -- with footage of him punching out a stage diver in Toronto topping his YouTube videos -- but his latest appearance was unmarred by such shenanigans. He and his bandmates stuck to rock 'n' roll, plain and simple.

With a stripped-down set list including both of his recent Matador singles -- the giddy "See Saw" and the brooding, gloom-infused "An Ugly Death -- as well as a barrage of scorchers from "Blood Visions," the performance was short and sweet, with barely a few seconds' breather between songs. Reatard played like an unchained animal, throwing himself into the mike to spit out lyrics, then stepping back to gulp a breath, his face obscured by a mop of curly brown hair. Particularly strong was "My Shadow," the catchiest tune on his last album, along with high-speed renditions of "Hammer, I Miss You" and "Oh It's Such a Shame."

As the last number of the 45-minute set thrummed toward silence, Reatard let out a high-pitched shriek, barked a curt "goodnight" and stalked unceremoniously off the stage, true to his punk rock roots.

Opening act Cheap Time kicked off the show with a set of tightly focused three-chord punk rock gems. An angular mixture of "Born Innocent"-era Redd Kross and '70s-inspired glam, the Nashville trio's energy and bratty youthfulness perfectly set the mood for Reatard's coming onslaught.

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jason.gelt@latimes.com

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