The Slants, The Eyebrows, and Grown Up Avenger Stuff at Neighborhood Theatre

It’s not often you get to see a band fresh off a victory in a Supreme Court case, especially on a Monday. The Slants came to Charlotte and rocked the Neighborhood Theatre in black shirts and ties. Opening for the Portland, Oregon foursome were a pair of Queen City trios: The Eyebrows and Grown Up Avenger Stuff.

The Eyebrows, comprised of Jay Garrigan, Shawn Lynch, and Jon Lock, played a set that was fast and fun with tight, often abrupt endings, piercing drums, solid hollow-bodied brickle bass, and a hardline lead guitar. Jay played some fantastic solos, often paroxysmal in the process, with technique that was entertaining not only to hear, but to watch, as well. He went punky with the vocals, and I wondered how he eats spaghetti. This group’s art features chromatic colors that beg you to stay out past your bedtime. In the finale was some truly drool-worthy bass – fast and low.

There was a shift in the air as Grown Up Avenger Stuff took the stage. Brothers Hunter, John, and Tyler Thomsen riled up the molecules of air before them with an anticipatory guitar note and bass that said, hey, lady, come get this. Then they produced a sound so drum-heavy and full, I banged my jaw on the floor. They played tighter than a Colombian woman’s pants, with a feel like Rage Against the Machine. Tyler is the kind of drummer who can put the crinkle in your lasagna, and had there been noodles in NoDa tonight, he would have. The band played with the beat like a child with a snake. There were extended moments of heavy-handed everything, letting up for brief respites like a hippopotamus surfacing for air. They played the audience as they played their instruments, settling into a steady groove and gradually amping up its irresistibility until it was almost unbearable, then switching grooves and repeating the process.

Hunter, on bass and lead vocals, had a certain swagger, flipping his hair as the three of them jammed together, guitar spiraling, drums pounding, and bass magicking. They played tight, with the guitar, at times, sounding gritty like under cooked steel cut oatmeal spilling over huge, pillowy drums. This is music to dance to. John pushed a pedal and the galaxy poured out of his blue axe. Hunter brought it all together with the bass. As the lyrics slowly worked their way into the song, they played off the instrumental, each amplifying and enhancing the other. John was a blur, left hand mashed against the body of the instrument, playing impossibly high and impossibly fast, but all the while, proving it possible.

Then, The Slants came on. As they began to play, blasts of sound coming straight at the crowd, Joe X. Jiang balanced on his toes at the edge of the drum platform, a Monday night daredevil with a guitar. As the band gained steam with the opener, the guitar sung out and Ken Shima crooned out, his smooth voice caressing the tympani of everyone in attendance, all at once. Bouncy and playful, they played a series of songs that radiated positivity, without crossing the lines into the stiflingly serious. These guys have West Coast cool running through their veins and their instruments. How fortunate for us that they ventured east!

Ken’s vocals heated and cooled, always dynamic and exuding emotion. He is one of those artists who seemingly merges the physiological demands with the lyrics, making for a remarkable show. (I bet he sweats a lot.) Between songs, he took a moment to speak to the virtues of acceptance and justice. Then, the band launched into a cover of “Born in the USA.” Ken was sure to give special attention to the tweaked line, “Don’t you kill the yellow man.” Performing in front of the giant illuminated flag, they showed everyone in attendance that great music has no borders. Perhaps the American dream should be to shred.

After the patriotic cover, The Slants segued into an original with an indie sound that had everyone moving. Joe was positioned up on the platform yet again, this time gyrating next to the big cymbal. The bass (played by Simon Tam) climbed, elastic, and the guitar pierced like the cold of a root beer float. The sound filling Neighborhood Theatre was fun like fluorescent hair dye and buoyant like balsa.

When they arrived at the song they wrote about their legal skirmish, about their name – their very identity as a band – their stage presence exploded. Playing “From the Heart” for their adoring audience, the band luxuriated in the waves they were creating. It was a pivotal moment in the performance.

If you haven’t yet given a listen to the kings of verbal reclamation, check out The Slants.

Gwendolyn Lewis Written by: