Sensory Overload: Cheater Slicks

From the February 21, 2013 edition

Bruno Mars blasting from the PA on repeat before a Cheater Slicks performance was somewhat humorous, even if Mr. Mars did borrow heavily from The Police for “Locked Out of Heaven.” (And he certainly did.) Frankly, “Roxanne” would have been just as funny. Anything that could be described as glossy or effervescent seems like exactly the sort of profitable, fashionably dressed dragon the Slicks’ primordial garage rock was conceived to slay.

Not that I have a problem with pop, mind you. I spend more hours listening to Bruno Mars types these days than I do plowing through 7-inches in which the music’s lawnmower roar threatens to drown out the gnarled howling about existential crises (through analog microphones, of course). But when the first guitar sound check jars my attention away from the iPhone for once in my life, and the second guitar sound check reminds me why I will never hear my grandchildren’s laughter, I’m reminded of the thrills inherent in such primitivist soundbombing.

If one lyric stuck with me from last year’s Reality Is a Grape, it was, “If you don’t want to grow old, hold on to your soul.” This band’s grip on the animus must be firm because Saturday’s set at Ace of Cups for the farewell shindig was mighty virile well into the trio’s twenty-sixth year.

Dana Hatch certainly seemed healthy, barking out the lyrics to “Love Ordeal” and concussing his who-needs-hi-hats drum set mere months after the heart attack that forced the band to sit out its own silver anniversary celebration. Meanwhile, the Shannon brothers offered a reminder of the power of power chords, rendering the question of bass practically irrelevant.

It was as loud and abrasive as ever — even Cheater Slicks songs at their most structurally sound are Brillo Pads to the senses — but there was little hint of this band’s legendary ability to clear rooms by allowing its skronking clatter to dissolve into shapeless nothingness. This was one of those nights when they opted to play it relatively straight, when the anthemic “Refried Dreams” made the cut and the noise meltdown was saved for last. For once, the room was full when they finished — ravaged, but full nonetheless.