Bear Axe, Razor Clam, and The Carols at Cafe Racer
This week's Drunk At A Show is brought you by U-District neighborhood and the cozy feel of the famous Cafe Racer. On the bill to electrify the audience was Bear Axe, Razor Clam and The Carols. Dive into the hazey night without to recall the beauty of the night and the mystic music that captivated the audience.
While the current tsunami of 70s-referencing no-wave, punk, and “art punk” bands continues to swell, I was super charmed to encounter The Carols’ take on reedy, messy art school punk. Not to imply that the Carols are short of ideas: their wordy songs whirl at speed around a concept or an idea, the bassist and guitarist splitting vocal duties including cryptic screeds about fictional entities buying summer homes (‘Time Burglar”). The beguiling and oftentimes admonishing Carols finished off their too-short set with “Better Off,” a fuck-you track cut from the same disaffected, desire-negating cloth as no-wave punks Bush Tetras. The song’s triumphantly deadpan lyrics, delivered over an ominously funky bassline, tell how our heroine has kicked a wretched crumb to the curb, and how she’s better off “getting myself off.” Grand slam punk victory
Next, the five-headed “salty-sweet” synth arpeggio-laced creature known as Razor Clam slithered onto the Racer stage to coax moody high-stakes sonic melodrama from their instruments. Dark surfy basslines, shimmery-menacing guitars, badass drums, foregrounded by Aya Mara’s don’t-fuck-with-me vibrato, put the audience under Razor Clam’s watery spell. If Twin Peaks atmospherics are your thing, then you’ll feel unworthy of Razor Clam’s finely tuned aesthetic. But it’s not all 90s TV fugue states—this band gets in your face and stays there. Frontperson Aya is an indomitable presence, and did a corset-toss in the first song. The cold-wave-meets-Blondie tjammer “Maybe” and the pyrotechnics-worthy “Closer” were also key moments. Keyboard-forward cold-wave lounge-pop with a dose of the burlesque?? Hats (er, I mean tulle boas) off to Razor Clam!
Bear Axe’s earth-shaking metal-soul-fusion is indescribably heavy, so heavy that bassist Jon Lemmon’s beanie refused to stay on his head for the duration of their set. From the relatively small stage, singer Shaina Shepherd rocked the house up and down with her powerful and mercurial singing. Channeling Chaka Khan and Robert Plant, Shaina was a futuristic (re)vision of heavy blues rock as she sang about relatable subject matter, like making the wrong call while you were stoned or getting one shot too many at the bar. Third song of the night, “Uber,” a feminist ode to the ride-hailing service, was maximized by fire guitar solos that would make Carlos Santana blush. Near the end of the set, Bear Axe took “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” the traditional song recorded by Leadbelly and made a literal Death Star explosion out of its hundred-year-old kindling, taking a song about an act of violence that precipitates “my girl” seeking refuge “in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine”, and turning it into a feminist statement of defiance.
I felt truly lucky to be able to see these special bands, and even more lucky to be commemorating Cafe Racer’s 15th anniversary: in 2017, former owner Kurt Geissel announced that the U-district cafe would be closing its doors. Cafe Racer embodies the “art bar” moniker: the ambiance is kooky and warm—an old school watering hole equipped with N-64, a boat-sized espresso machine, velvet paintings and a Peeps-collaged icon of JC himself. Under the new ownership of Jeff Ramsey, it continues to be a hive for emerging artists, writers, musicians, cartoonists, not to mention Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts. Check out their full calendar of events online.