Like most people outside Portland, Oregon; I first found out about Red Fang when I saw their goddamn funny video for “Prehistoric Dog“. From this I learned that they have a sense of humor, that three out of four of them have beards, and that they fuckin’ rock. I promptly acquired their self-titled first album, and learned that they rock even harder, and more variously, than I had anticipated. Yeah, there’s more heavy rock with galloping riffs, stoner metal charm, and a little southern rock flavor; but they also stray at times into weird time signatures or slow doomy shit. Not a one-hit wonder after all. I proceeded to miss them when they opened for Mastodon because I still can’t get used to the way concerts start on time these days. (This leaves me admittedly unqualified to judge whether the band’s live performance shifted between the two tours in ways parallel to my sense of the difference between the two albums.) But since I liked the album so much, I did buy a t-shirt from one of them — I forget who was manning the merchandise table; one of the ones with a beard.
Or perhaps I was wrong; maybe it wasn’t one of them at the merchandise table last year. Maybe it was some other guy. See, when I walked into Slim’s in San Francisco, I had a strange experience. I fear that my description of it may seem pejorative, but it’s not intended to be. It’s simply this: never before have I walked through a crowd at a music performance and mistaken so many people in the crowd for members of the band. Like, the band that was actually playing at that moment. Yep, most of the crowd had beards. Again and again I spotted someone and had the unconscious reflex, “Oh cool, one of the guys from Red Fang, I’ll say hi! — oh wait, no, that can’t be him, they’re actually ON STAGE right now.”
If I was a snarky hater I’d probably try to use this as evidence that Red Fang and their fans are conformist hipsters. But no. I don’t see it that way. On the contrary, these motherfuckers are just genuinely casual. And furry.
I studied them as they rocked out, up there on the stage at Slim’s. Their second album, “Murder the Mountains,” hadn’t quite grabbed me yet. There was something about it, I thought; a quality which carried over into their live performance. Granted, I was an ignoramus who fuckin’ missed them last tour. But, on the off-chance that there’s anything to it, let me try to describe this quality.
IMPORTANT: it’s not that I want a band to sound the same from album to album. I hate when fans pull that sort of anti-evolutionary shit. And I know by now to expect a second album to be more produced. Cleaner sounding, more poppy, etc. But this was not only in the engineering and mix, but also in the composition — a certain quality of, let’s say, “intentionality” in the songwriting. I’m not saying “contrived.” I’m not saying when I listen to it I’m like, “oh this is them doing the Melvins” and “oh this is them doing Queens of the Stone Age” and “oh this is them doing Thin Lizzy” and‚ okay, well, maybe it actually kinda is.
But wait, wait, just like the beard thing — I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s contrived; not really. They’re just guys. Guys rocking. Rocking out the way they like, with the influences they happen to have; and yeah, they want to make music that kids these days will enjoy listening to. #notafrickincrime
And, indeed, maybe there was less of a shift between the two albums than I thought. When they were playing a song from their first album, the buddy I came with (beard, thick-framed glasses) turned to me and said, “Sounds like Queens of the Stone Age.”
We swim in such a sea of hipsterism these days, I’d have to question any claims that these guys are contrived just because they draw an occasional bit of inspiration from great bands we all love. Or have beards. They’re from Portland, Oregon for fuck’s sake. I say they’re just genuine men of the twenty-first century.
Oh, and plus they fucking rock!
(And if some ideologue wants to accuse me of being an apologist for hipsterism, they can eat shit. I outgrew irony before irony was cool.)