At first listen, I thought Oakland's Long Thaw approached their straight-up hard rock with ironic jokiness. After all, this clever bunch sport names like Chile Valentine (né Benjamin Prewitt), Diego Snake (a.k.a. Dan Brubaker), and Mr. Forever (born André Zivkovich). Their humor meter defaults to squirm-inducing sexual innuendos, and as Snake puts it, they believe there are "enough hair farmers out there that like to just sit down with a beer and listen to some dude rock."
Well, the joke's on me, and I thought wrong: file Long Thaw's heavy sound somewhere between the Melvins and Triclops! and never doubt the band would treat music with sardonic carelessness.
Back in December, when I first saw the combo play, I didn't expect much, except that I might get bored, and if so, I could kill time in the Stork Club back room by pouring $10 into a pinball machine. My low expectations paid off: not only was I not bored; I was fully entertained by Long Thaw's classic twin-guitar attack and speedy riff trading, heavy bottom-end drum fills, and soaring, operatic vocals. As much as its members have absorbed the ideas of proto- and post-punk, the band's economy and aggression compositionally refer more directly to 1980s hardcore and '90s alternative rock.
Long Thaw formed at the intersection of two Bay Area bands: Boyjazz and Stay Gold Pony Boy. Eager to try his hand at writing and playing his own songs, guitarist Forever got his chance when, he says, "literally within a month I got dumped and I bailed out of Boyjazz." Snake brought some riffs to Forever's attention, and they clicked enough for the two to start a new project, joined by friends and colleagues DeSoto Vice (Szymon Sipowski) on bass and Savannah Black (Jenya Chernoff) on drums. After a year of auditioning vocalists, Long Thaw found Chile Valentine and came out of its ice age.
Being a classically trained vocalist, Valentine can pitch it high and sustain the notes: he's turned out to be the icing on the group's hard-rock cake. In just one year, during which his voice flipped between sounding too over the top and too reined in, Valentine went from singing at karaoke bars to warbling on local stages. "Overall," Forever says, sitting down with the rest of the band at Soundwave Studios, "if [Valentine] weren't singing, we wouldn't get the Iron Maiden and Dio comparisons." Sure, Valentine's amusingly metalesque voice hooks you, but the band's rhythmic clip and dueling riffs, as well as catchy choruses and bridges, keep you around.
Judge for yourself on the new self-released EP Feels Natural, and notice how well the band fits into the current pop cycle, in which hard rock is undergoing its seeming once-a-decade revival in the form of Queens of the Stone Age and spin-off Eagles of Death Metal. Here in the Bay, Long Thaw's music seems surprisingly fresh, especially as a muscular counterpoint to the foppish twee-ness of a certain segment of the indie underground. If you came of age during the late '80s and early '90s, and the sounds burned in your brain are those of Dinosaur Jr., Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Jesus Lizard, you'll enjoy Long Thaw's old-school rock 'n' roll, played anew.
March 2, 4 p.m., call for price
2330 Telegraph, Oakl.