Radioactivity w/ Bad Sports, Tenement and Chinese Telephones @ Cactus Club
June 21, 2014
Punk, as a genre descriptor, has seen better days. Becoming a catch-all term
for anyone who can play fast chords and style themselves outside the
mainstream, punk has been divided into subgenres and reduced to the cliché of
the messy, mohawked ne’er-do-well too committed to hard living to successfully
play a show.
Luckily, reality is better than the clichés, and, if anyone needed proof of punk’s nuance, look no further than the bill at Saturday night’s Cactus Club show. Wisconsin’s Chinese Telephones and Tenement joined forces with Texas natives Bad Sports and Radioactivity, each bringing their smart and eclectic sounds to a packed room.
It took just one song for Chinese Telephones’ front man to shed his shirt during the group’s opening set, which, given the entire band’s energy level, was unsurprising. Their set was a pleasingly unkempt burst of shouted vocals and pop chords, full of frenetic liveliness and rough charm. Chinese Telephones offer the sort of music you’d want to listen to in your parent’s basement in some kind of time warp. Fast, effective, and simple, their set was an ideal kick-off.
After the torch was passed to Tenement, the show ratcheted up a notch in musicianship and volume. Tenement boasts supercharged melodies and superior song craft, both of which are elevated by the sledgehammer intensity they bring to their live performance. Favoring complex songs with instantly memorable refrains, Tenement delivers tuneful melody with an aggressive, undeniable intensity. When their set plowed into a Stooges-style jam, Tenement snapped back into the melodic yet ferocious pop-inflected punk they do best without missing a beat.
It would be easy to place Bad Sports on the spectrum of bands that sound like The Ramones, but they display a fondness for riffs too indebted to classic rock to simplify them so neatly. Easily the most danceable band of the evening, Bad Sports twist the straightforwardness of Ramones era punk to accommodate pleasing rock rhythms. Live, they play with a clean, mean attitude, launching each song with precision and verve. Reminiscent of The Undertones and unsung power-pop heroes like The Records, Bad Sports blend of swaggering riffs and straight ahead song structure charmed the crowd with ease.
Closing out the night, Radioactivity took the stage with little fanfare before launching into their relentless, unbroken approach to the punk song. It would be silly to ignore the similarities between Radioactivity and Marked Men, the band whose hiatus prompted the inception of Radioactivity. Both bands offer succinct, smart songs with blistering precision. But where Marked Men owed a debt to The Descendents, Radioactivity traces the lineage of Hüsker Dü, howling instead of harmonizing and eschewing many (though not all) of the tricks of the pop song trade. Straightforward and no-nonsense, Radioactivity blazed through their set with something beyond a tight performance (their musicianship is something to behold), showing off their subtle integration of the pop and rock music they so clearly appreciate. Punk, it seems, is not only alive—it’s bigger and better than you remember.