Any band can tumble into self-parody, but the primitivist retro garage rocker walks an especially treacherous tightrope. Point-perfect genre rehash is frequently served up as a substitute for quality songwriting, and Comrade Question carried a few red flags into 4th St. Bar & Grill last Thursday — the absence of a bassist, the presence of an ironic-leaning mustache, a drum kit so minimal it was barely there — that suggested this performance might be a tired pastiche. The group’s collection of impotent recordings on Bandcamp didn’t bode well either.
But fellow retro fetishists Psychic Wheels pegged Comrade Question as their favorite local band during our recent interview, which got my assumptions all twisted up. I love Psychic Wheels, so I wanted to believe in Comrade Question. And frankly, Psychic Wheels’ recordings don’t pack the wallop of their live show, so maybe Comrade would quell my questions with a powerful performance?
That’s precisely what it did. Lesson No. 1: Trust Psychic Wheels. Lesson No. 2: Don’t even think about drawing conclusions about a rock band’s live show based on its recordings.
After asking for more reverb on their microphones (of course), Comrade Question launched into a bleary, blissful 14-song set that knit together bunches of first- and secondhand reference points. It was the sort of pastiche I expected, but not tired so much as dreamy. And Sundown/Urns drummer Chris Pierce was there accomplishing wondrous feats with that cymbal-free drum kit, illuminating via both power and finesse what the recordings could not: This band has songs.
Guy-girl harmonies, surf-rock guitar, sudden launch into shoegazey intensity: The opening number was Mamas and Papas by way of Pixies. I was smitten by the second song, a masterpiece of minimalism that split the difference between classic rock chug and floaty dreampop ephemera. It had killer harmonies, double tambourines and the punchiest staccato punctuation too.
From there, they dabbled in psychedelic molasses akin to Black Lips, reverb-drenched jangle befitting Beach Fossils and lightweight reverie to match Real Estate. Guitar parts traipsed in and out of each other’s vicinity while simple, direct lyrics captured the essence of yearning. They even used the line “I saw you standing there,” but like the rest of Comrade Question’s output, it reflected the classics rather than robbed them.