HOT SNAKES @ La Sala Rossa

By Omar Goodness - Hooked on Sonics - 11/09/04

After witnessing what I just did, I'm pretty sure of one thing: the Hot Snakes are not human. Playing every song with impeccable precision and unseen and unheard of tightness, these dudes have gotta be machines. Currently on a mammoth tour behind their frenetically fabulous new album, Audit in Progress, these three guys from San Diego and one from Brooklyn hit the stage at la Sala Rossa for their first show in Montreal to an excited and anxious crowd.

Now, let's get this out of the way. If you don't know this, you either: a) have never listened to HOOKED on SONiCs, b) never been in my car, or c) don't really know me. I am a HUGE fan of the dearly departed Drive Like Jehu. Jehu's one of those bands that completely changed my perspective on music. They were totally ahead of their time and managed to sound like a mangled car crash and a well-oiled machine at the same time. Hot Snakes features one half of Drive Like Jehu; Hot Snakes then puts out records after Jehu's demise; Yours truly enjoys those records; Hot Snakes comes to town...Do the math. Asides from the upcoming Pixies concert, this was my most anticipated show of the year. Yeah, that's all great and all, but did it live up to all my lofty young teenage reminiscent expectations? Good God, yes.

Coming out of the gate with "This Mystic Decade", they picked up steam, almost as if they were warming up. Then the gloves came off, and the beating began. Bursting with nervous energy on record, the high strung post-punk quartet captured said energy, bottled it, and then proceeded to break it over the audience's head. At three different moments of the night, they performed three blocks of the first three songs of each of their three albums consecutively. Without pause. It was incredible, and my brain is still completely mush after witnessing the sonic stampede of "Braintrust", "Hi-Lites" and "Retrofit" (my personal highlight of the show) off of Audit in Progress.

Guitarist/Vocalist Rick Froberg, formerly of the late great Drive Like Jehu, yelped, screamed, bellowed, and mumbled his vocal chords numb. Steady on stage left, Froberg kept the patented Hot Snakes downstrokes a-comin' on his Telecaster while making eye contact with audience members throughout entire songs with his fixated, almost unblinking, crazed glare (yeah...uh...he did this to me a few times, especially during "Suicide Invoice"...creepy is beyond what that was like). Not really much of talkative host for the evening, Froberg explained that as how he wished he had "something interesting to say, but none of us speak French. Sorry."

Guitarist John Reis (aka Speedo of Rocket from the Crypt, and also formerly of the amazingly awesome Drive Like Jehu) provided some backing vocals here and there (though noticeably, and sadly, missing during their breakneck run-through of Suicide Invoice's "XOX"). Launching the band into each of their hyperactive tunes by raising his guitar neck as a signal and then proceeding to chug away, Reis was perfect, note for note. No count-offs, a few rare looks between members, most songs were started immediately after the last one, with Reis signaling the band with that split-second motion.

New drummer Mario Rubalcaba, also of Rocket from the Crypt, did a fantastic job of covering the older songs as well as pummeling through the frantic new ones without missing a bit. The setlist pretty much went "slower song, faster, fast, fast, fast. Repeat," most probably to keep him from keeling over from the manic time he was keeping during most of the songs.

Bassist Gar Wood (ex-Tanner) stood his ground next to Rubalcaba's kit and plucked out his bass lines while rocking his trademark moustache. He hardly all. Looking a little spaced out, he was rock solid, anchoring the mayhem and adding a great new low end element to songs off of Automatic Midnight and Suicide Invoice that were recorded sans bass.

The crowd was totally spellbound with all eyes on the stage and reacted to everything they played with complete excitement, the songs off of Automatic Midnight, "Hi-Lites", and "I Hate the Kids" especially (side note: I wish I could put into words the sheer amusement of witnessing the interesting avant garde dance moves being performed during the show by the couple in front of me. Saying It was "ridiculously hilarious" does not do it justice).

Out of a totally flawless performance, I guess the only complaint would be the fact that they never really loosened up. Playing with their machine gun intensity was fantastic and all, but more open-ended songs like "Salton City", "Our Work Fills the Pews" or even the pounding outro of "Hatchet Job" would've added a nice turn of events to the setlist. Still, they roared through a solid set and left the stage literally soaked with sweat (seriously, the amount of sweat seeped into Froberg's shirt alone was kinda sick). Needless to say, these guys have stamina and the show flew by in a blur. I don’t think I’ve witnessed a band this inhumanly tight in my life.

How they play so hard, so fast, and still remain completely in-check is unbelievable. Plus the fact that due to Froberg's opposite coast distance from the rest of them, making band practices few and far between, makes that feat even more impressive. This was one of those shows that leaves you speechless after. Days later, the effects are still setting in and I'm still reveling at how amazing they were.


(Catch an interview with John Reis on HOOKED on SONiCs within the coming weeks and hear how he convinced me that he helps operate on snakes at the San Diego zoo in his downtime. Bassist Gar Wood videotaped the interview to post on their website...uh, their website is updated practically once a year, so don't hold your breath.)