TVD Live: Sheer Mag
at DC9, 9/10

Sheer Mag is one of the coolest band names you could think of, conjuring up both the term “sheer magnitude” as well as an image of shiny, sheared-off magnesium wheels from some cut-rate auto store. It simultaneously suggests both the inherent metal punch of the band and the screaming cheer above it all.

Formed at SUNY Purchase and settling in Philly, Sheer Mag is a quintet often lumped with punk if only because its hooky songs are punchy and full of rapid fire assault. With its soloing and solid crunch, a kind of a sass to the power chords, the sound though sits on more classic pilings though. Thin Lizzy is in the neighborhood, I guess. But when I wondered why Phil Lynott’s Irish band got so often mentioned in conjunction with the band, I realized it’s the autosuggestion of the band’s rather amateurish adaptation of their angular logo.

Tough to tell if the logo is ironic or not; the band certainly doesn’t follow through with the requisite leather or streaming long hair for that matter.

In their driving, sold out show at DC9 September 10, brothers Kyle Seely (lead guitar) and Hart Seely (bass) in their short hair and T-shirts look like they might be refugees from some frat band that just hit upon something that sounds so cool they’ll find out where it goes. The crunchiness and tight focus of the band pays homage to the ’70s hard rock but the speed and catchiness of the short songs are all about punk energy and drive.

The focal point of the band is lead singer Christina Halladay, much better live than even on their great singles, with a sneery scream that soars over the thick riffs of the band. It’s good stuff, even if the content of the songs turn out to be the same old romantic concerns.

She wails and wags her two-tone hair to the beat, threatening to flatten you with her sound, if not her big inked-up arms. Her power is unrelenting—there are no ballads in sight. And as the band keeps powering on, Seely and second guitarist Matt Palmer add little ’70s guitar noodles here and there as drummer Allen Chapman pounds it out. It’s a no-crap delivery that in turn is bound to none of the slavish conventions of any particular genre. They just step on the gas and go.

Previously in town with Parquet Courts, it was an achievement for the band to headline a sellout show in D.C., as part of a big regional headlining show of clubs and colleges. But the three-hour, four band show that began with Myrrh Myrrh and Trunk Weed was packaged as a punk show, so that meant less than 10 songs from even the headliner. Which may have suited them fine. So far, they’ve only recorded two four-song 7” singles. And here they all were. Those who had both knew to shout out which one they so far hadn’t played for the single encore.

Sheer Mag can be credited with choosing openers for its local set—just as they’ve been the recipients of opening slots for admiring bands Parquet Courts and Ex Hex. This time, they chose an interesting, subversive band from Providence, Downtown Boys with its own charismatic lead singer Victoria Ruiz, who shouts about inequality, racism, and land distribution as the female-dominated four piece behind her revs up before bursting into a punk blast that gets the band jumping so high they threaten to hit the overhead studs of the ceiling.

What’s more, guitarist Joey L DeFrancesco’s guitar riffs are doubled by the saxophone of Adrenne Berry, which turns out to be a key addition to punk music. Like James Chance before her, she takes the opportunity to skronk it up appropriately to the band rave-ups. It’s surprising how much soul gets added with the sound of what is already the leading “bilingual political dance sax punk party,” as it describes itself.

A third band on the bill, Trunk Weed, seemed laconic by comparison, but the Baltimore trio, which sounded a bit like the sons of Nirvana at its best thanks to the yowls of lead singer and guitarist Brady Kelly and self-effacing comments of bassist Tucker Neil, were pretty good too.

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