Viagra Boys don’t Care About You, and That’s Why You Should Love Them

By Sean Edwards

|

Share

Rock music has been on the cultural back burner since Fred Durst. In my mind, the late 90s nü metal boom, extending into the early noughts, marked a major shift in mainstream taste. Rock and Roll bands are not the icons they once were in the days of Zeppelin, Queen or Nirvana. After a long reign at the top, the band format ceased to grip the skulls of mass consciousness, giving way to rap, hip-hop and electronic forms of music. The cultural shift away from the band makes complete sense, as the market became ultimately saturated. A lot of bands were big for a long time and people got tired; they craved something fresh and exciting that rap and hip hop were more than able to provide. Young artists with unique style, wild personalities, and uncompromising attitude filled the role of the leather-clad rocker with as much vigor and fire as any guitar jockey. In the wake of SoundCloud and the storm of rappers utilizing the punk formula to massive mainstream success, rock music has found itself at an interesting point.

Bands are still big– Greta Van Fleet is now playing massive arenas and one could argue that Coldplay is a rock band– but in my personal opinion, there has not been a widely respected group to really do it since The Strokes. We can feel their influence echoed in every college surf-rock outfit around. The easy-listening adult alternative that Julian Casablancas and the Strokes peddled to the masses stuck around and was bastardized into the chorus pedal cult. I see a clear link between 12:51 and Mac Demarco, between Razorblade, and say-nothing, offend-no-one OC artist, Bane’s World, the musical equivalent of mayonnaise. 19 million plays on You Say I’m in Love makes me want to lay in bed and listen to In the Flat Field on repeat, but don’t let the Bedroom-pop icons of the world make you drive your Misfits buttons into your eyes in an Oedipal rage. Rock and roll music has become more accessible than ever, anyone with a laptop and loop pedal is now a band. With accessibility comes different perspectives, not all of them good, but some of them great. Playing rock music was difficult to do 15 years ago and it’s easier now, but that doesn’t have to be a  bad thing.

alt="Punk singer with tattoos at concert"
Photo By: Sean Edwards

The underground is always where rock and roll music lives and dies. In dingy clubs and infested basements, for junkies and bums, not five-star hotels and the Hollywood Bowl. Stockholm Sweden’s Viagra Boys are the festering soul of rock music. They serve as decrepit examples of how and why this whole thing should be done: with power and for no reasons but their very own. They, with support from Pottery and Flatworms, took their talents to the Echo in Los Angeles last Wednesday night in a Tecate soaked tour-de-force.

The car door slammed shut as the rattling of empty aluminum danced through the air. Easily sliding into parking off Sunset, I followed after my drunken friends. Sipping on the first of my three allotted designated driver beers, sliding from shadow to shadow to avoid coming into contact with the passers-by, accosted by my chosen company. Two guys in their mid-20s coming out of an Italian restaurant stopped us up, inquiring upon the occasion, curious as to what had the boys and girls so excited. “Viagra Boys at the Echo? Who’s that? Oh word, that’s why there are so many Swedes in that restaurant.” The men, wearing wide-brimmed hats at night, carried on in the other direction after crossing the street and we got in the short queue in front of the Echo. The crowd was refreshingly devoid of the cuffed Dickies and trends that seem to plague the entirety of Southern California venues. The lack of surfers had me giddy as LA-based Flatworms roared on stage.

alt="Punk singer and frontman with tattoos at concert"
Photo By: Sean Edwards

Flatworms are an immensely talented band. They blasted through their guitar-heavy set with professional poise. The atmosphere at The Echo was light at that point. People were still filtering in, getting ready for a long night and the LA three-piece went on early. Despite the poor timing, Flatworms delivered a monster set and clearly showcased their firm following. However, they should have had a pit of people going mental for them, but instead, they were greeted with a sleepy and half-full venue. In hindsight, with the talent and energy they brought, they should have had two bands opening up for them, but having them play first was a testament to all of the bands involved. Flatworms are most definitely not an act to miss and I look forward to hearing more from them in the coming year. Their new EP Into the Iris was recorded at home by Garage God himself, Ty Segall, and is an absolute ripper. When attempting to buy it on vinyl myself, I found that it was currently sold out on Bandcamp, which I was very happy to see.

Judging by the room as the second band Pottery took the stage, I don’t think a single person had heard of them. As soon as they jumped into their first track, it became clear that no one would forget them. Someone before the show told me they were from British Columbia. Self admittedly, I have a strong Vancouver bias– I don’t like it. I don’t generally like bands from there. I’ve never been, and I can imagine it’s lovely, but a band called Fake Shark (formerly Fake Shark-Real Zombie!) ruined it all for me. Pottery had restored my faith in Vansterdam until I found out they are actually from Montreal– makes perfect sense because they are intimidatingly good. Often writing about music becomes a referential exercise, I’m guilty of it, but truly all music exists within its own time and should have the same luxury of self-definition afforded to the greats. Reference, however, becomes a necessity when efficiency is in the mix; I don’t have 5000 words to explain what Pottery sounds like, so to give it to you in the best way possible, they sound a lot like Television, a little more like Talking Heads but mostly like Pottery. Go listen to their track Hank Williams to see what I mean. The five-piece made the Echo stand still with synchronized vocals and two powerful guitars, bobbing and weaving in and out of each other as they bashed us over the head with technical mastery. Pottery’s dynamics were their most impressive aspect. Bringing the level up, down and to complete stop again and again in every song, I couldn’t help thinking of Queen. Take notice of the name Pottery because pretty soon, Pottery will be everywhere and you’ll have to stare down at them from the nosebleeds of an arena near you.

Pottery and Flatworms epitomize the high caliber of music being played in cities around the world. Rock music has thrived in the shade. Where there are trash acts like Bane’s World and Allah-Las, there are also young people laying down deadly serious music like Flatworms and having fun without bowing to mass palatability like Pottery.

Viagra Boys took the stage just before midnight to a sold-out house. Purple and blue lights saturated the room and Sebastian Murphy’s voice filled the room as the rest of V-Boys filtered in and took up their instruments. The noise mounted as Murphy’s voice, commentating on a fictitious greyhound race, rumbled through the sound system. Layers and layers of feedback and race commentary stacked on top of each other until they blended into a deafening roar, broken by the opening baseline of Research Chemicals. Murphy sauntered out from backstage, Tecate in hand for the opening lyrics. All at once they relieved all the tension created by the shroomed-out dog race commentary and created it all over again with the ceaseless drive of Research Chemicals. The dissonant horns, over the nightclub drum-and-bass influenced bass line was intense.  Seeing Sebastian Murphy in a shirt added to the suspense. A friend of mine who saw them the night after in San Francisco gave a similar report. Seeing the man on stage with a shirt on was unsettling. The set didn’t let up from the second it began, flexing the strength and depth of the bands material. Murphy flew into the audience during the sludgy denouement of Sports, only to be coughed back up by the audience, thudding onto the stage and sliding through sweat and beer from the front monitors to the drum kit. They balanced the performance with the between-song audience engagement that we all love out of bands. That’s why rock music is meant to be played in venues, not areas. You can look your favorite bands in the eye and tell them to fuck off, and they can give it right back, face to face, eye to eye, no faking it. Murphy gave it to the LA crowd full force: “Pussy-ass mother fuckers in LA,” he mused between songs, “In Sweden, we have great amphetamines, how do you think I got this body?” He slapped his tattooed belly as the opening feedback to Amphetanarchy began to buzz.

alt="Punk singer on floor while band plays at concert"
Photo By: Sean Edwards

The band’s projected contempt for the audience was refreshing. They truly did not care whether we liked it or not, they didn’t care what we thought about them or their music. Their music packed every square inch of the room, captivating anyone who got close enough– like it or not. If Satan had a band it would be Viagra Boys, not Pantera, Slayer or Napalm Death. Satan doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody, and neither do V-Boys. Evil is indifferent, you are affected by it but it does not even notice you as it passes; it does not need to revel in blood and medieval iconography but oozes and churns in the contemporary. Viagra Boys could not be any more contemporary or indifferent. They closed the set with Shrimp Shack to applause that morphed into a wild encore chant. In a final ‘fuck you,’ feedback again began oozing out of the speakers. Everyone was wild-eyed, chomping at the bit for another track. The feedback steadily climbed in volume, maintaining a slow and controlled tone that built to a truly unimaginable level. Recoiling from the speakers, the audience’s fingers were stuffed in ears, and bodies moved erratically trying to escape the deafening noise. V-Boys never came back out. The feedback peaked for a few minutes and slowly climbed back down. The Echo descended into stillness as those still left slowly, carefully, peeled their hands away from their faces.

I stumbled out of the venue looking for a smoke, trying to catch up with the rest of the crew headed to the car. As I rubbed my eyes I glanced to my right. I saw Mr. Muerte himself, Sebastian Murphy, hat and shades on, hood up smoking a Marlboro Gold and drinking a Tecate. No one noticed him. He stood there talking to a buddy and watched everyone stream out of the show ears ringing, eyes watering and stinking with sweat. He appeared on stage as a 7-foot adonis, with a presence like amphetamines: manic and unpredictable but usually a good time. Now he was shrunken down to regular human size, undetectable, free to enjoy the aftermath of their mayhem.

Viagra Boys don’t care about us, but we sure care about them. That’s how we like it. That’s how it should be done, with no regard for anyone but the music. Never mind the mayonnaise rock, we’re going to be alright. Rock and Roll is in good hands; we should enjoy our respite from the Motley Crues of the world. Those guys are assholes and that movie sucks. We’ve never needed them, we’ve always thrived in the shade, lived our lives in obscurity playing to junkies and bums. Rock music isn’t cool. Cool shit comes and goes, brands and labels make cool, but human beings make rock and roll in all of its disgusting, abrasive glory. It’s just like all of us: unpredictable, wild, but not always fun. Viagra Boys are keeping rock music human in the age of automatization, and for that we are forever in their debt.

Tagged:

, , , , , , , , ,