Nine times out of 10, the free CDs you get handed by random persons while in the crowds of a live show aren’t very good. The majority are clunky lo-fi affairs sounding like they were captured haphazardly on makeshift dictation tape recorders, all of the spirit somehow buried behind a wall of tape hiss and buzz.
While catching a show recently at The Luna Lounge, one of those random persons went wandering through the crowd, dispersing copies of a home-produced disc by a band called Vice Transmission.
I admit, I wasn’t expecting much.
That was my first mistake.
A punk-rock outfit that injects a bluesy swagger into their guitar-driven songs, Vice Transmission is the band Jon Spencer would join if he grew tired of the critical expectations of the infamous Blues Explosion.
Or they’re what Timmy Taylor would have formed in Dayton, Ohio had he never discovered the wonders of the Moog.
Or, better yet, they’re the surefire pick for an opening act at a Mark Arm festival led by Mudhoney and The Monkeywrench.
The band kicks off its three-song disc with a grungy punk number straight out of Sub Pop’s glory days, all crunchy guitar progressions, snarled vocals and tight 4/4 drumming. In comparison, the chorus of the song cuts loose a bit, the high notes of the electric guitar ringing out as Vice Transmission’s singer allows his voice to shift from a wail to a near croon.
“Wild thing, it’s time to mess around and stick around forever, around forever,” he sings, his voice coasting smoothly over the guitar refrain. After a few rounds, the band stops on a dime and the singer belts out a line or two through slight distortion – an interesting interlude – before they launch right back into the thick of things.
The first song is followed by a track that’s more trash rock than it is punk rock, with the vocalist again toying with the line between singing and wailing, all amid choppy, sometimes-bluesy guitar figures. After a few runs through a verse or chorus or two, the song – similar to the EP’s first – stops, gradually creeping back to a bombastic close as the singer repeatedly shrieks, “Cease fire! Cease fire!”
The third song is more of the same, with the choppy guitar lines backed up by a bass that is punchier and more in the forefront than on the previous tracks. Again, though, it’s a few notes bent out on the neck of the electric guitar that sell the song at points.
Any punk can use three chords to express a shred or two of discontent, but Vice Transmission seems to realize that using the high end of the guitar well lends a bluesy density to their work. One of the disc’s most priceless moments also comes near the close of the proceedings: in the last verse, the band breaks the song into a creeping, palm-muted refrain with all of the obligatory tension, then gradually build back to a rousing close.
It may be a formula – and they try it on at least two of the three tracks herein – but it works.
Only after listening to the three songs on this far-too-short offering did I realize my second mistake: I didn’t ask the random person who handed me the disc where I could find more.