Punk Still on the Block
Washington D.C,’s instrumental trio known as The Messthetics, blending punk and experimental/jazz aesthetics and featuring former Fugazi members, makes its local debut at Velvet Jones.
When: Sunday, 8 p.m.
Where: Velvet Jones, 423 State St.
Information: 965-8676, www.velvet-jones.com.
By Josef Woodard
As suggested by the band name, Washington, D.C.-based power instrumental trio known as The Messthetics isn’t your average latter-day punk band. Art, aka aesthetics, are in the stew, too. Punk meets experimentalism and jazz-rock seasoning. Call it punk-sperimentalist power trio music, for the headbanger set and heady music fans, alike.
For a closer look and listen, head to Velvet Jones on Sunday, when the The Messthetics makes its local debut. The club has been known to occasionally host musically intricate variations on heavy rock—for instance, the incognito art-metal weirdo guitarist known as Buckethead, who played the club in 2016.
If the name The Messthetics doesn’t ring much of a bell, another iconic punk entity might: the rhythm section of famed, political and anti-establishmentarian punk act Fugazis—bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty–is at the heart and the origin story of the band. The pair, who have been off of Fugazi duty since that band took an extended break starting in 2002, teamed up with guitarist Anthony Pirog. The guitarist who qualifies as the more experimental part of the Messthetics equation, is a D.C. player known for work with Skysaw (also with drummer Jimmy Chamberlain of Smashing Pumpkins fame), Janel & Anthony and New Electric.
In the post-Fugazi interim, Mr. Lally spent many years in Italy while Mr. Canty’s various musical adventures included playing with Bob (Husker Du) Mould. The bassist returned to the D.C. area and the old rhythm section mates began experimenting with a new sound. Enter Mr. Pirog, and a new three-way marriage was born. That sound suggests a strange merger of brainy punk, new brands of fusion and prog-rock, and shades of guitarists such as Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson.
In an interview with the British publication Louder in February, Mr. Canty remembers the germination of the project. “When I listened to Joe’s stuff, the only person that I could think of that resembled what I heard was Anthony. He has this virtuosic noise and experimental thing going on. As soon as we brought Anthony into the mix it worked almost immediately, we had stuff to work on right away.
“We were experimenting, improvising with each other, with electronics. He (just has) endless musical imagination and skill. If you try to talk to him about what he is actually doing in a solo – well, I wouldn’t bother. He just has all this high-end music theory. He knows his (stuff).”
Their eponymously-titled debut album of last year, released on the Dischord label and taken from live recordings in their practice space, runs a gamut of styles and energy levels. It opens with “Mythomania,” a deceptively steady-grooving tune, but with some snaky melodic guitar lines and added noise-energizers in the margins. The following “Serpent Tongue,” another album favorite–well-liked and well-clicked on Spotify—charges forward with a visceral power, a hypnotic 5/4 meter and some wild-style guitar turns.
From the lyrical post-surf rock flavor of “Once Upon a Time,” they quickly shift into high gear and rapid fretboard tapping, of the Joe Satriani-esque sort, on “Quantum Path.” Just when we might get lulled (or pummeled) into making assumptions about the trio’s rock restlessness, they turn to what teasingly opens as a veritable contemporary jazz ballad, “The Inner Ocean,” complete with drums played with brushes and Mr. Pirog’s tone starting out jazzy clean and then kicking in the distortion and epic rock attitude.
Undoubtedly, Fugazi fans are among those tuning into the unfolding story of The Messthetics, and with a burning unstated question: will the now long-dormant Fugazi ever reform? To that question, Mr. Lally told the British publication that “you never want to say never about anything, because how can you say that about the future?
“But there does seem to be a lack of time to allow it to happen, because the four of us would have to spend a lot of time together to figure out. Should we play old songs? Who are we now? What is it now?
“We are not the kind of band to get together and just rehearse two hours of old songs to go out and play it, rake in the dough and come home. If we got back together it would have to be from the spirit of creativity. You can’t put an inherently creative group back together and then not have the creative element. It would be different if we got back together.”
For now, there is creativity and sonic energy aplenty surging through this thing called The Messthetics.