Cum on Feel the Noize

Cute Lepers and confounding legislation.

Steve E. Nix doesn't even need that clever stage name to show he's well-suited for his profession. Even his bristle of blond hair, Iggy Pop physique, and wild-child eyes are ultimately extraneous—the Cute Lepers frontman looks and sounds like a star, thanks to that rare ability to exude charismatic confidence without coming off like a self-important prick. He's a pleasure to watch, especially when surrounded by his equally energetic bandmates (six in all, including a trio of refreshingly uncontrived female backup singers) and barreling through a set of their retro-fitted, glam-gilded pop-punk with that easy joy that comes when a band is having an exceptionally good time onstage. Working from a template forged with elements of the Buzzcocks' playful buoyancy, the Undertones' snarling melodies, and a shameless undercurrent of mod revivalism and '50s doo-wop, the Lepers sound instantly classic. I'm watching this unfold from the balcony of the King Cobra on a freezing cold Friday night. In addition to being guitarist Zache Actually's birthday, it's also the night of their homecoming show after six weeks of touring, and the band is exhibiting a fresh-from-the-road energy. There's also a gleeful sense of anticipation about them with the impending May release of Can't Stand Modern Music, their debut on Blackheart Records, the well-respected indie label established by Joan Jett 25 years ago when she began selling singles of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" from the trunk of her car. Jett and creative partner Carianne Laguna had publicly expressed their admiration for Nix's former band, the slightly more abrasive punk outfit the Briefs, so the deal came together rather smoothly. "After a few phone calls, we pretty much had the record deal sorted out," explains Nix. "I've always been a fan of Joan Jett and what she represents in rock 'n' roll.... I'm really fucking elated that she likes my album!" From my perspective, the band sounds as good as it looks, but that's also thanks in part to King Cobra's house sound system, which is just phenomenal: crystal clear and beautifully balanced. Between this and the fantastic sight lines, I hope the club becomes a permanent part of the Capitol Hill scene. The recent loss of booker Jenny Bendel is certainly not in its favor (she's now taking up the reins at Slim's Last Chance in Georgetown, diplomatically citing "creative differences" as the reason for parting ways), but almost more troublesome are the rumblings among Capitol Hill club owners that a lack of clarity concerning the city's forthcoming noise ordinance is causing a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty. The Seattle City Council passed an updated ordinance in December, with the provision that the Department of Planning and Development would work out specifics on enforcement by June 1, when the ordinance officially goes into effect. However, patrolling officers have already been arbitrarily asking clubs to turn down their sound. When I contacted James Keblas, director of the Mayor's Office of Film + Music, he wouldn't comment on the ordinance, though he did offer to speak off the record (I declined). When I followed up on his suggestion to directly contact the mayor's office, Lori Patrick from the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs said simply, "The city soon will begin to draft rules related to the noise ordinance. The draft rules will be open to public comment." This would be fine in theory, if it weren't for the pre-existing tension between nightclubs and the mayor's office—and more important, for the suspicion among some club owners that the ordinance is already being enforced. "Right now the laws are open to interpretation a bit, and that's scaring me," says Neumo's co-owner Steven Severin. Chop Suey general manager Roy Atizado, whose club has been visited by officers asking them to turn down the volume, is similarly nervous. "It feels like the officers on night patrol are enforcing an ordinance that is not in effect until June and not yet clearly defined," he says. "We want to be a good neighbor to our community, but it's difficult when you feel like you're being subjected to different opinions of what is and what is not too loud." Havana owner Quentin Ertel, the recently elected president of the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association, echoes this concern and is trying to take a positive, proactive approach. "The SNMA has been trying to get in touch with people in city government to figure all this out because we want to be part of the solution," he says. "We'd like to know; unfortunately, we can't get anyone to call us back. The way we see it, the residents in our neighborhood are our customers—you want them to be happy. But we just want the rules to be applied fairly and correctly. It's definitely a really important issue and could potentially have a very big impact on nightlife in this city."

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