Avengers/Erase Errata - Cafe Du Nord, San Francisco - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Avengers/Erase Errata - Cafe Du Nord, San Francisco

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

Watching Carletta Sue Kay is kind of like Genesis P Orridge: The Torch Song Musical. Singer Randy Walker stands in the spotlight, his face a mess of smudged make-up and five-o'clock-shadow stubble, his blonde wig (which he bitches about between songs) flopping down over his eyes, his off-the-shoulder red dress revealing a thick, heavily tattooed arm. His vocal, however, is mannered, melodramatic and diva-ish, matching music based around piano and guitar which recalls Jeff Buckley at his most chanson.

The songs are bursting with drama, romance and heartbreak, but Carletta Sue Kay struggle to rise above cliché. They're not helped by some dodgy lyrics: "The Golden Gate Bridge/ is a great work of art/ It leads to a city/ full of broken hearts" is one particularly cringe-worthy moment. But though Walker sometimes over-reaches, occasionally he undercuts the drama with wit, which works a treat, as on 'Some Famous Landmarks' where he opens with the deadpan question, "Is there a lot of dark shit in Paris?"

Most of the music is elegiac and slow and on tonight's evidence I'm not sure that's what suits this band best, since they really come alive on a couple of songs; first, the poppy, upbeat strum-along 'Just Another Beautiful Boy', on which Walker takes a sideways look at failed love affairs rather than wallowing in the pain, observing pithily: "You know that love is not a duty/ and it shouldn't be so hard/ You shouldn't be scrubbing his dishes/ and then mowing his backyard." If this light touch fits them well, then closing number 'Cruel, Cruel Man' shows Carletta Sue Kay have genuine range. A bellyaching blues number with angry guitar, it features a subtly gender-bending lyric and a truly showstopping vocal performance from Walker, wailing like Janis Joplin with a cock. Despite the underwhelming nature of some of their material, this band have clearly given their all by the time they leave the stage.

Erase Errata have got one hell of a treat in store for their fans tonight: original member Sara Jaffe joins the band on stage towards the end of their set to power their way through several early songs including the fantastically spiky, disjointed 'Tongue Tied', delivered with all the furiosity and intensity you could wish for. Singer Jenny Hoyston also lays down her guitar and picks up a trumpet for a sparkling rendition of jerky, no-wavey gem 'Marathon'.

It's brilliant and, heartwarmingly, the band look like they're having a great time. However, the trio's set before this is no less impressive. Their dexterity in navigating the fractured yet constantly flowing and evolving groove they create is mesmerising and hammers home what versatile musicians they are. Songs such as the masterful 'Cruising', from 2006's acclaimed Nightlife, are rendered in a way which is faithful to the recorded version yet leave plenty of room for improvisation and screes of sheet-metal guitar noise.

Avengers are a San Francisco punk band formed in 1977 from the same post-hippie, pre-hardcore milieu which spawned Dead Kennedys. One of those bands which made only minor impact beyond their scene during their original lifespan (Most notably, they provided support for The Sex Pistols' final gig), Avengers are clearly local heroes and are hailed as such by the crowd here. That may well be deserved but I have to say, after Erase Errata they are a massive let-down. Their three-chord, Oi! style, proto-hardcore punk sounds dispiritingly flat and one-dimensional in comparison to their support's sense of sonic adventure. By the time they get to their cover of The Rolling Stones' 'Paint It Black', for which the term 'bashed out' was surely invented, I have had enough and find a seat at the back of the venue. A mildly disappointing end to a varied, intermittently excellent night.

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