The Mission Creeps and Snake Island, The District, August 8

Peter Buck of R.E.M. said in 1984 that he had bought more albums released in 1984 than from any other year. What he was referring to was R.E.M. touring the U.S. and him finding gems from underground or unknown bands as they traveled. Twenty-nine years later, Buck's statement is still relevant. Similarly, in 2013, I have discovered one great band after another just by accidentally stumbling upon them, and none should languish in obscurity (and many don't).

Omaha, Neb.'s Snake Island!, a rock 'n' roll quartet completed by a touring projectionist, proved to be quite a find. Their sound connects the dots from the 13th Floor Elevators and the Velvet Underground, through Spacemen 3 and beyond. Whether Snake Island! is updating this style or just playing it so well that it comes off as contemporary is subjective; what matters is that the end result is fantastic. Their mostly slow, rhythmic songs, while melodic and monolithic in their own right, served as beds for singer Garrett Schmelzel, who shrieked and growled demonically through a modified microphone, which just made his voice more unearthly. Snake Island!, despite their psychedelic forebears' best (or worst) intentions, were not very mind-expanding; just raw, primitive and foaming at the mouth. And, frankly, that was more than enough.

Seeing the Mission Creeps perform locally for the first time in months was just as exciting. Sometimes this band gets lumped in with the psychobilly crowd, but they're so much more than that. While some of their music sounds a bit like Gene Vincent with Norman Bates running the tape machine, the content of the music continues to get more modern and distinctive, especially with drummer Stephka Von Snatch's increasingly straightforward beats. With the addition of Gene Ruley (Tucson's very own Robert Quine) on second guitar, the Mission Creeps sound more muscular than ever. The best song they played was called "Johnny Cash," and it showed that no matter how many times you rewrite Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike," you can't lose.

One shared attribute of Snake Island! and the Mission Creeps was placing a premium on visual presentation. While this can sometimes go horribly wrong, these bands got it perfectly right, with the projections and lights enhancing their respective music, not detracting from it. And everybody knows that presentation is just that: how it looks when the goods are served.

More by Joshua Levine


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