Line Up

Playing Penance with L.A.'s Icarus Line.

If you haven't noticed that, dude, all of a sudden the Icarus Line totally kill, you can blame the Icarus Line. In the last few months, the quintet of self-described "lowlifes" not only toured hockey rinks with neo-decadent supergroup A Perfect Circle, but finally obtained their first Motorized Phallus, er, bus. You won't believe the horror stories: Not one Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar has been violently excised from its glass tomb at a Hard Rock Cafe, not one Strokes tour bus has been tagged with "$uckin' Dick$," and not one Kid Icarus has gotten housed by a random mall-punk poseur that guitarist Aaron North slagged on his popular Web site Buddyhead's gossip page. Sure, the ever- polarizing, L.A.–based art-punkers still got more than their share of hecklers opening for APC, but according to drummer Jeff "the Captain" Watson, they even handled that, well, economically: "Instead of yelling at the crowd, we would just single, like, the 'one guy' out—call him to the front, spit on his face, throw something at him. Sometimes we got booed and sometimes [the audience] loved it."

It took only one or two haywire gigs for the Icarus Line to cement their reputation as indie rock's most volatile, verbally pugnacious, hard-partying scumbags (really, though, who was the competition? Death Cab for Cutie?); it took six long years for them to advance from "definitely, um, spirited" to "pretty damn good." This is not to say that their 2001 debut, Mono (Crank!), is a bad record. It's simply undisciplined, incomprehensible punk energy lassoed into a suffocating digital coop. OK, duh, "punk energy" isn't necessarily supposed to be disciplined and coherent, but Mono in no way seemed to be a harbinger of this spring's Penance Soirée (V2), a follow-up the group is hawking for just five bones at the merch stand—and which happens to be one of the most bitchin', boozy, punkadelic headphones trips of the year.

North and vocalist Joe Cardamone have unleashed many a grammatically questionable Buddyhead mini-manifesto espousing bands like the Stooges, the Jesus Lizard, and Primal Scream as the undisputed, indispensable voices of passion and intellect in the brief history of punk; Penance is the sound of them putting their imaginations, hearts, and chops where their big fuckin' mouths are.Watson says the game plan was to "make every song sound like it was recorded in a different studio," and who better to mold the Icarus Line thusly than acclaimed mixer Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails)? The veteran was so into the project that he extended his time with the band from four days to 23. The results are equal parts phased-out Sunset Strip strut ("Seasick"), Sabbath-style dirges steered by Don Devore's vacuum-hollow bass ("Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers"), and Britpop-nodding gloom ("Spike Island"). Somehow, all the disparate influences and shards of noise congeal into a cohesive, balls-and-bongs-out rock adventure. The playing is precise, thoroughly conceived, yet always teetering on the edge of self-destruction. It's rock and roll, all right, emphasis on the "all right!"

Now, this hyperbolic critical crapola is all well and good, but for chrissakes, when are the Icarus Line gonna Fuck Shit Up again? Our appetite for Guns N' Roses– and Mötley Crüe–style onstage-and-off destruction remains insatiable, and few since dare to even whisper of treating a rock tour like a highway to hell. To hear Watson tell it, the Icarus Line are just a bunch of sometimes-homeless, oft- misunderstood misfits living the dream the way it was meant to be lived. He even lends new insight to the most infamous by-product of that philosophy, the aforementioned 2002 Stevie Ray SmashUp, in which Cardamone outraged the entire state of Texas by obliterating a Vaughan guitar display during a Hard Rock Cafe SXSW showcase, then plugging the ol' beaut in for a spin.

"I've never heard anyone in my band even explain it properly," Watson asserts. "The whole Stevie Ray thing [happened] because fucking jocks were chucking ice at our face and security guards were standing there, like, eating doughnuts. So Joe goes up to one and he's like, 'Hey, dude, can you handle this? I'm trying to play a show here and I'm getting pegged with ice and quarters.' The guy just looks at him like, 'What the fuck do you want me to do?' Next thing you know, Joe's like, 'Well, the club's getting torn the fuck apart, right now.' The next song starts, the fucking club comes down.

"We never do shit just to fuck with people, you know? But if you're not gonna do your job, we're gonna give you some work to do."

For now, the Icarus Line seem content with giving everyone much more satisfying work to do: Get plastered, get your rocks off to the new record, and try to be patient for a decade or so while they work out the good stuff for the unauthorized biographies and Behind the Music. Just don't show up at the set, fold your arms, flip them off, and talk shit. You're dealing with masters of the art, and penance always takes a backseat to a good soirée.

The Icarus Line play the Crocodile Cafe with Battles and the Evaporators at 9 p.m. Wed., July 21. $8 adv.

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