Live at Club Europa (4/12/2007)
You're not fooling me, Panthers. Despite your new, more marketable album The Trick, I know you're still the kind of absurdist intellectual revolutionaries who want to think things over and then go fuck them up--just with a little more focus on style this time round.
Front man Jayson Green's voice, more a hybrid of punk-50s, screamo-wail than a grating hardcore rasp, packs a whopping punch into a single verse. This megaphone is housed in the body of a corpulent, charismatic preacher with a charmingly sardonic onstage personality, and what I have reason to suspect is really a “nice guy” demeanor beneath it all. Panthers filled Polish dance Club Europa for their record release party, and Green’s playful sarcasm was on heavy rotation. “Someone told me to turn my vocals up, but I don’t want to melt anyone’s face off,” he said in a light, self-mocking tone. But when they started to play, it was obvious that face-melting was what they were aspiring towards even if not quite achieving it like their former hardcore outfit Orchid did regularly.
After feeling pretty rocked out, Green introduced his next song with “Here’s a slow jam for all you lovers.” I imagined Panthers were going to crank out a Yo La Tengo-ish shoegaze tune. Wrong. This band doesn’t do slow jams, and for good reason. They then burst into an only slightly less furious three-minute punker, which is one example of how conventionally hardcore punk their songs are – very short and very simple song structures.
Jeff Salane’s drum playing was nice and crisp, Justin Chearno’s guitarwork was a careful study in concentrated fury, and Geoff Garlock possessed a mean, consistent power on his Fender Jazz. Garlock also has the hair of Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale on top of a tough, stocky bass player’s build, which only serves to add to his appeal. These boys didn’t have a shitload of pedals or any special effects going on: just some nice big Orange cabs, some old guitars, and some talented, been-around-the-block musicians playing politically-focused hard rock. Dare I say the Panthers might be a political reference to the Black Panthers? This group isn’t explicitly feminist, but they are downright radical.
“Goblin City” is the obvious centerpiece of the new album and live repertoire: a catchy, little anthem that really cranked the crowd up. With the Panthers sounding more melodic than on previous albums, Green belted righteously about a "culturally bankrupt" city, then kicked in with a chorus contrasting the blind population with their role as political clairvoyants: "The city is right here and we can see right through it. The city is right here and you won’t look right through it." You could just rock out to this steady rhythm and love this music without recognizing its political element, but upon a careful listen, it’s evident how central a libretto is to this band’s oeuvre.
These are liberally educated sons, and I wondered if they thought of Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market”: a warning against a corrupt, desire-fraught society where goblins lure innocents into their trap. In Panthers’ songs, the goblins are hell-bent-on-consumption capitalists. On the highly theoretical end, past songs have included “Thanks for the Simulacra,” “Panthers Vs. the Automaton,” “My Commodities Have Been Fetishized” and “Post-Fascist Fantasies”; and on the lowbrow, Vice humor-approved end, little ditties like “Don’t Be a Dick” and “Stroke My Genius.”
Old fans seeking Orchid glory days may be disappointed by this move toward more melodic songs, but Panthers still put on a good show with substance. You won't be disappointed if you waver near the boundaries of hardcore and hard rock. Just skip the three hardcore bands opening for them unless you hear otherwise.