Live ponderation: Double Naught Spy Car at Taix, September 2.


When Dick Dale cut "Misirlou" in 1962, few woulda thunk that wild surf instrumentals would rage on forever. But Joe Satriani, the Pixies, John 5 (Rob Zombie's guitarist) and many more continued to ride surf's tide, and on Saturday, longtime L.A. longboarders Double Naught Spy Car hit the tube extremewise in the release party for their new "Moof."

The sight of lap-steel/Telecaster player Paul Lacques, Stratocaster master Marcus Watkins, bassist Marc Doten and drummer Joe Berardi jousting dramatically over their surf (etc.) originals raised speculations as to the reasons for surf's endurance. We tend to think of it as a throwback to a time of fuzzy innocence, but as Quentin Tarantino has often demonstrated, this music can represent a tunnel to darkness and danger.

For one thing, surfing itself, like many exciting activities, is far from safe. Many major surfers have been killed in action, and the National Weather Service reports that U.S. surf zones claimed the lives of 74 swimmers by August 21 of this year alone.

Secondly, surf music shows a special bias toward minor chords. When minors are played quietly ("House of the Rising Sun," anything by Leonard Cohen), the effect is sadness. When those chords are turned up loud and reinforced by pounding drums, the effect is delirious fear.

Third, as in a story by Paul Bowles, lurks the deadly lure of the exotic. Of Arab and Slavic descent, Dick Dale (Richard Mansour) was influenced by his uncle's oud, incorporating minor Arabic scales and buzz-picking techniques into his music. When you hear him play, you feel strangeness, intrigue, forbidden liberation.

You also hear the proverbial Left Hand Path, the Way of the Adversary. Dale, like Paul Lacques, Albert King and Jimi Hendrix, played lefty, one of the factors that stamped him with instant otherness. The Latin word for left: sinister.

With Double Naught Spy Car, the sinister was subliminal, the music more crazy than dark, giving the band a subtler power than that of metal bands who brag up front about their brutality and negativity. What we feel in the most affecting music (Rolling Stones, Beethoven, Miles Davis) is the eternal teetering tension between good and evil, beauty and noise, comfort and horror. Lacques especially personified this with his distorto-toned lap-steel, which etched aching melodies only to bend and stretch into wider exorbits and then snap like an overstressed industrial spring, propelling shards of broken clockwork across the room. Watkins took a more aggressive tack, his single-string leads gunning rivets into our heads before he wiped our skulls clean with sweeping minor chords. Doten's round-toned bass and Berardi's rumbling drums pulled off the difficult task of keeping the music together without stiffening the gelatin.

It wasn't all surf, and in line with the collaborative concept of 00SC's new album, it didn't all come from these four. We got tangled ambiguity from guitarist Joe Baiza, lush lyricism from keyboardist Danny McGough, strutting 12-string dandyism from guitarist Chris Lawrence, gutty R&B from saxist Vince Meghrouni (whilst Doten plucked tribute to CSNY), country sophistication from guitarist Elvis Kuehn.

So, in the compact, baroque-carpeted ballroom of an old French restaurant, we got a lot of music, a lot of contradictions, a chance to dance and food for thought. For free. But buy the record.

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