Sensory Overload: Comrade Question travels through time at 4th St. Bar & Grill

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From the March 13, 2014 edition

On record, Comrade Question songs tend to come on as relics from another era. Time and again on the recently released Pepe Polo (Superdreamer), the band locks in to a melodic guitar jangle that suggests the musicians are auditioning tracks for the next volume of the Nuggets garage-rock series.

In concert, however, the four players — Lee Mason (guitar/vocals), Katie Baillie (guitar/vocals), Patrick Koch (guitar) and Matt Whitslar (drums) — attack the material with teeth-baring ferocity, crafting a reverb-laden wall of guitar noise that sounds very much of the now. So it went on a recent Thursday at 4th St. Bar & Grill, where the band blasted through more than a dozen tracks during its taught, tough 45-minute set.

With three of the musicians (Mason/Koch/Whitslar) donning knit caps and two (Mason/Koch) sporting impressive beards, Comrade Question could have passed for a gang of Alaskan fishermen on shore leave. Fittingly, the crew packed an array of guitar-driven hooks into its songs, which tended to be both brief and punchy — with a handful of exceptions. On the slinky, sultry “Winds,” for one, Baillie channeled her inner-Nancy Sinatra, crooning about shadowy forces in a voice as icy as the mid-February sidewalks.

Admittedly, these mellower moments were rare, and generally the group ripped into songs like “The Way That You Are” and the punkish “Stop Dying So Much” with life-affirming verve. Indeed, the intensity was such that the performance gradually took a toll on Mason’s voice, and by set’s end the frontman sounded as though his windpipe were somehow caked in barnacles.

This did nothing to slow the crew. “Bastard” opened amid shuffling drums and Mason’s proclamations of invincibility (“This heart you can’t break”), gradually giving way to a conflagration of guitar. The punch-drunk “Wine,” in contrast, allowed some cracks to show, Mason and Baillie singing of some lingering emotional crises (“Each time I think I have it together I break down and cry,” they harmonized) while attempting to numb the hurt with booze.

Even so, it appeared nothing could keep the players down long, and life’s various dust-ups and heartaches were generally shrugged off. “Knew what would happen,” Mason sang dismissively on the rowdy “Song About a Woman.” Best to just keep your head down and let the guitars wash away any and all of the outside noise.