Another fresh-faced local outfit, Red Letter, also punched out midpace new-wave-style tunes and delivered a performance punctuated with occasional bursts of energy. The quartet was experimenting with a new rhythm section, and both members performed capably, with the drummer standing out as Red Letter's most talented member and the bassist eventually loosening up after spending the first five songs staring at her hands. Megan Kasten, who shook her clenched fists temper-tantrum-style as she sang, belted out tunes that had far more verses than the average pop creation, and attempted to break up the redundancy by adding dramatic emphasis to certain phrases. Kasten's vocals were strongest on her band's slower material, but she also unleashed a few unbridled screams that added exclamation marks to Red Letter's louder tunes. Still, songs such as "Panic" and "Mary Had A Little Lamb," on which Kasten traded in her standard approach for an occasionally grating squeaky style, were at least twice as long as they should have been, and repetition also dulled the hooks of catchier fare such as "Fun" and "Tonight." Part of what makes punk endearing is that even when the verse-chorus-verse format becomes numbing, it's acceptable because the bands get in and out in two minutes or less. By cutting a few lines or by adding some bridges to its tunes (the guitar player seems underutilized), Red Letter could become considerably more charming.
Sister Mary Rotten Crotch also packs more than an average amount of verses into its powder-keg creations. However, as it delivers these tunes at roughly twice the speed of Red Letter, Sister Mary's songs still clock in at a manageable length. Furthermore, the group tried out several seldom-played numbers (one so new that singer Liz Nord had to work from a lyric sheet, and one so old that it predated Nord's tenure as vocalist) that allowed guitarist Alison Saunders to branch out beyond chords with impressive results. As for the tried-and-true material, few sights on the local-band circuit match Nord grinding her way through the band's irresistible cover of Lords of Acid's "Pussy" or Amy Farrand drilling her drumset during the chorus of "Polaroid." Farrand's dual-vocal segments with Nord add depth to tunes such as "F.U.C.T.," making the choruses truly powerful and not just a louder retread of the verses. With its seasoned stage presence and its increasing musical proficiency, Sister Mary provided the young openers with a stellar role model.
Older in terms of years together as a band, if not agewise, The Gadjits, or, as they were known tonight, The Stijdag (the members of the sometimes-maligned erstwhile ska group apparently fear adding their real name to the bill will subtract fans from the crowd) kicked out five tight rock 'n' roll jams. Each member of the group worked up a considerable sweat while staying in constant motion during this brief set, which highlighted material from The Gadjits' upcoming full-length release in November. Whatever the name, the group's songs were well-received, suggesting both that whatever stigma was once attached to The Gadjits has faded with time and that their new sound is capable of winning over doubters.
Playing an almost-as-short set, despite packing in twice as many songs, were The Distillers, the trio fronted by the raspy-voiced, mohawked guitarist/singer Brody Armstrong. Drummer Matt Young and bassist Kim Chi provided an amazing rhythm section, but Armstrong, who was a picture-perfect punk goddess as sweat caused her mascara to run down her face, was definitely the one to watch. The Distillers' already infectious streetpunk tunes gained additional power from the live setting, and to see Armstrong strum and yowl Joan Jett-style was to watch the next Courtney Love-type crossover star in the making. Thankfully, Armstrong remains far too raw to ever inflict a Celebrity Skin-style pop record on her fans, but The Distillers figure to experiment and grow album by album as her husband Tim Armstrong's band Rancid has done. For now, The Distillers are a must-see up-and-coming live act, and those who caught them at the El Torreon's back room were lucky enough to witness them in an intimate setting before the inevitable buzz leads to cramped crowds and bigger venues.