Music » This Little Underground

Pono AM’s prismatic garage rock, Pasty Cline’s warped country, Blue Tower’s rubber-burning hardcore, Rotten Stitches’ fiercely traditional street punk and Control This’ roots-minded ska

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PONO AM AND PASTY CLINE, ST. MATTHEW'S TAVERN, JULY 30

St. Louis band Pono AM is a garage-rock band, a fairly tradition-minded one even, but they're much more than that tag typically entails. By not staying bound by the narrow punk straits that have predominated in this millennium, they keep their possibilities wide and stay fresh. What's blossomed in their case is a sonic range that boasts a bright psychedelic pop ability and an exceptional amount of dimension for a young garage band.

Perhaps the surprising part, then, is that when this foursome flares up in one of their more charging songs, they come with more fire and kick than most of their more professedly punk contemporaries. When they push the pedal and rock, it's a towering attack. And it's not just basic volume and snot either. This is the kind of focused and fortified power that comes from acuity of song and heat-seeking chops.

What seemed promising on paper ended up being one of the best concert chances I've taken in a long time. There's a shock of revelation any time you come across a band that's simultaneously this complete and this obscure. At some point, though, one of those conditions has to give. Until then, Pono AM are ready.

Opening was curious local cowpunk group Pasty Cline. As their name promises, they're a sort of garage-minded burlesque of country music that's a little fucked and a lot of fun. It's a freaky-tonk sound that often plays like warped and shredded cowboy songs, including maybe the most braying and off Jewel covers anyone's likely ever heard.

Pasty Cline are not only interesting but also a pretty original voice around these parts. Look at them alongside Slim Walker and His Orchestra, who concluded the night, and you could maybe see the groundwork for a left-field country scene. Now that would be interesting.

BLUE TOWER, ROTTEN STITCHES AND CONTROL THIS, UNCLE LOU'S, AUG. 2

The prime feature of a recent and diverse bill at Uncle Lou's were a couple of touring Atlanta bands that are from the same geographical area but occupy different stylistic ground. Rotten Stitches play a strand of street punk that veers more toward hardcore than the sounds of the pub. They're more G.B.H. than Sham 69, and they're especially devoted to both the ethos and the aesthetic. Coming on with a bonanza of studs, bullet belts, hair color and anti-establishment politics, it's close to the point of stereotype. But Rotten Stitches were loud, fast and requisitely pissed enough to get the skinheads moving.

Next to the visual spectacle of Rotten Stitches, fellow Atlantans Blue Tower are total Plain Janes. But after a good listen, the torch and blister of their sound ended up being the real star of the night. Although they, too, are a hardcore band, this lean, mean trio kick out a raw brand of punk rock that less strictly toes the traditional tribal lines. While the Stitches are 100 percent punk, the animal heart of rock & roll isn't just more prominent in Blue Tower, it's in full inferno. Even though they rush headlong with total and unrelenting velocity, they're still wild enough to make room for some carnal guitar burnouts. No fashion, no bullshit, just pure, searing rock truth – that's Blue Tower.

Opening the night was local ska band Control This. Oh, ska. Is there a genre more bastardized or more unfortunately hijacked than ska (or its direct ancestor, reggae)? Consider its modern popular conception. Thanks to its wide-ranging and commercially successful but often terrible Third Wave, the sounds and style that ska conjures in most minds has much more to do with the California of the '90s than the Jamaica of the '60s. Which sucks. That's like your otherwise respectable family being judged solely by your trashy, illegitimate third cousin.

Control This, however, are refreshingly traditionalist in their take on the form. They're not soft punks or, worse, beach bros in disguise. They're sincerely trying to champion the roots of ska, rocksteady and early reggae. And though they're a band of few frills, they tread a virtuous path.

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