Jay Reatard, The Swantom Bombs
Simon Jay Catling 13/11/2009
They're not hanging about at the Roadhouse tonight. Doors are at 6pm, and Jay Lindsey aka. Jay Reatard is done and dusted by 8:40pm. More than a few latecomers arrive expecting to still see the flying limbs and cocky strut of drum and guitar duo The Swantom Bombs, ensuring many disbelieving dropped jaws at the sight of the Memphis-born headliner and new band (more on that in a bit) already snarling his way through a joltingly disarming set. Whilst this is all a bit galling for those in attendance, you get the sneaking suspicion that such a quick turnaround of events might be just what the 29 year-old Lindsey needs. Those who did manage to turn up early will have seen the long-haired singer prowling the Roadhouse basement like a predator; not so much circling its prey, though, instead more akin to it being kept captive against its will. It's been a tricky tour so far for Jay Reatard, thrown into disarray when his touring band quit on him a couple of weeks before they were due to travel to Europe.
Yet, following the equilibrium has never been his thing. This is a man who, if you take Wikipedia's discography entry as gospel, has an output of around 70 releases under the auspice of several projects and bands. On stage, too, his notoriety precedes him; most notably punching a fan in Toronto who'd come on stage. Yet, in a way, it's this sort of controversy that ties in our subject with the true us-against-the-world spirit that epitomised the very first flush of punk. And it's for this that you can never write Reatard off; after all, 2007's Blood Visions crept into Pitchfork's Top 200 albums of the noughties.
It's the title track of said lauded album that stokes the opening fires of tonight's relentless forty minutes of frenetic anguish; "blood visions!" The lyrics are spat out of his mouth as though his larynx is about to follow suit. There's something almost self-flagellating about the punk rocker's performance tonight: the way he throws his head forceably up and down as though willing it to topple off, the sustained attempt to separate his voice box from his throat, and the way that he allows himself no respite whatsoever. There's certainly no outward anger here; he's looking in our general direction, sure, but not at us; his gaze lies beyond our twitching forms. In fact you get the feeling that if it was just Jay Reatard and an empty room, he'd still be doing exactly the same thing: a form of inward scourging that unwittingly doubles as a form of queasy entertainment; much like the popping of cartilage and ligament on a rack would be for people of a medieval age.
The above, those needlessly ostentatious observations, have only occurred later on by the way. During the set itself there's not really time to think, in fact to try and reflect on what you're witnessing at the time is to sever the chord between you and the performance. That's how Reatard does it, that's how good punk's always done it: the brutal throttling of the senses. It's notable that- even though quicker in tempo- the recent upsurge of lo-fi noise crafted by the likes of Times New Viking et al. can't compete with this for sheer intensity. Certainly TNV themselves couldn't keep this sort of aural assault going for as sustained a period when they visited Manchester back in September, and that's saying something. Tonight in the Roadhouse we're bludgeoned with a constant buzzsaw (that frequently used but never less than delicious adjective) of noise for nearly forty minutes; even the arguably more expansive tracks of this year's Watch Me Fall struggle for air amidst the intoxicating directness of Reatard's performance. 'It Ain't Gonna Save Me', 'Rotten Mind'; they're in there somewhere, screaming to be heard. The trouble is so's everything else. It's punishing, gruelling even; words that aren't often associated with a pleasureable experience, yet tonight they seem fitting.
There are but two songs that battle above the clamour to ingrain themselves in the mind tonight. The bouncing hooks of 'Oh, It's Such A Shame' offer a slight change of pace that also reminds those in attendance of the artist's knack of being able to churn out a perfectly poppy brain lodging riff. Then there's 'My Shadow'; an opus, by his standards, at over three minutes long, it features the refrain of "I don't feel too well"; a sentiment that tonight seems to emphasise the strain Jay Reatard is putting himself under to extract his demons. Fancy that; metaphorical self-harm, a punk rock show and an exorcism in one. And it's all been wrapped up by watershed.