In this town, you’ve gotta jump on the punk shows as quickly as you can. Thus, I went to check out local boys HN-88 and El Paso, Texas’ Antigone. I’ll say right now it wasn’t the greatest show I’ve ever been to in my life—frankly, I felt old while watching those young “punks” cavort around—but, as you’ll soon find out, I absolutely salute both The Underground and the bands for taking a punk rock stab in a town without pity. Let’s find out more, shall we?
I’ve often said that I don’t much care if your band has the greatest guitarist to ever pluck a string—if your rhythm section is awful you’re probably in serious trouble.
In the case of Antigone (say it like an-tig-oh-knee, idiots), the trio had the guitar turned up so loud it was impossible to hear what anyone else was even doing. Sure, there were dudes near the guitarist who appeared to be manipulating their instruments in some fashion, but it was almost like they were pantomiming in the face of the ear-shattering six-string.
Two-thirds of this Mars Volta-ish prog-rock act may as well have not existed, and the room cleared within moments…they’re called the bass, volume and mid knobs, Mr. Guitarist, and you don’t just twist ’em as hard as you can to the right. I mean, no offense, Antigone, but you ain’t no Tarantula Hawk (look it up). I understand the desire to crank it to 11 and rock the fuck out, dudes, I really do. But we want to hear the individual parts that make up the whole of your songs, not a guitar-heavy wall of tinny sound that ruptures our ear drums for no apparent reason beyond that you seem to think loud automatically equals heavy (it doesn’t).
That said, the few moments that did manage to achieve musical clarity—the crushing breakdowns, the psych-ish yet simple guitar solos, the pure rock ’n’ roll chug-chugs—bordered on sublime. Unfortunately, these moments should make up the majority of a band’s set, and since I’d left my ear-plugs at home, I couldn’t weather the storm.
Cut to 27 minutes of me chain-smoking on the street and talking Robert Jordan fantasy novels with this dude I know while waiting for the next act. And so it began…
From the first moments of HN-88’s set, it was clear the quartet likes mid-’90s pop punk. Like, a lot. I don’t say this as bad thing, though, because when you really think about it, a young local punk band that actually writes and performs their own songs is downright refreshing. Yes, it is totally depressing that, in Santa Fe, a youth-oriented rock band breaches novelty territory simply by existing, but I was instantly reminded of a 15-year-old idiot version of myself hanging around Warehouse 21 and getting my friends together to play NOFX/Jawbreaker rip-offs…in other words, the band is tight. Besides, there’s a pretty major difference between inspiration and emulation.
And though HN-88 wears their influence on their collective sleeve, they’re at least trying to eek out a name for themselves in a city that has all but placed “no punk!” signs in most of its venues. HN-88 is far from perfect, but there’s a whole hell of a lot of potential. I might advise the dudes to hire a full-time keyboardist or simply ditch that element entirely. It seems kind of goofy in a contrived emo kind of way, particularly during the song that goes “Why can’t I remember this last December!?”—a line I’m sure can be found in some kind of emo/pop punk songwriting cheatbook. But I otherwise find myself looking forward to what HN-88 will eventually become—just about the only legitimate punk band operating on a regular basis around here (please note I said “regular basis,” These Charming Cobras and Beautiful Stupid Radio. Also note that I love both of you). I get the feeling HN-88 will become indispensable once they mature a bit and drop the blink-182-esque mid-show banter