In the Bay Area's labyrinth of low-lit warehouses, cramped house parties, and grimed-out dive bars, it's a cacophonous tug-of-war for the three-chord crown.
This latter-day resurrection of traits from the late 1960s the Sears Roebuck guitars; the off-key, offbeat attack; the onstage fearlessness has brought many unpretentious all-for-one-and-one-for-all shows to the scene. Poised to snag a bit of the shiny rock 'n' roll royal headdress is Oakland's Snakeflower 2, a trio whose blistering, bare-bones repertoire seems to spring newly alive from a dusty, attic-dwelling bin of decades-old abandoned vinyl.
Vocalist and bassist Matthew Melton's lo-fi roots stretch like the world's longest amp cord all the way back to his hometown in Memphis. There, he grew up playing in garage bands and jamming with prolific punk hero Jay Reatard.
Discontented with the Memphis scene's lack of fire, Melton eventually put together a ramshackle, road-ready outfit that became Snakeflower's first incarnation. The group played what Melton, a lover of subgenres, describes as "art punk non-songs." Moving his musical dreams and new band to California instigated a gift-and-curse scenario. "We decided almost overnight to go on tour," he says. "It was really ill-conceived. We did a full U.S. tour literally calling venues from the road, jumping on these bills and having pretty crazy shows along the way."
Snakeflower mark one had wilted by the time the group made it to San Francisco, and Melton's bandmates stranded him in the city and left for Los Angeles. Nonetheless, he decided to stick things out and reform the band with two new members, drummer Billy Badlands and guitarist Tim Tinderholt.
"Where I grew up in Memphis, you can be guaranteed that no one's gonna pay any attention to you," Melton says. "Here, there's much more energy in the scene. Plus, being surrounded by so many great bands is a motivation to keep making great music."
It's easy to hear what the California scene has done for Snakeflower 2's live shows and recordings the group's aggression is undeniable. The late 2008 release Renegade Daydream (Tic Tac Totally) is steeped in the dire urgency of a fragile heart under pressure. It grooves hard, thanks to dagger-sharp hooks and vicious chord progressions, all registering at shit-hot speed to keep up with Melton's nervy vocal swagger. "Memory Castle," the album's single, pairs psychedelic tunnel-vision reverb with a rumination on lost dreams and the courage it takes to get them back.
Melton's already looking in a new direction for the group's next album. When his other brainchild, the smooth-punk outfit Bare Wires, gained popularity, Snakeflower 2's gigs took a hiatus. But during that time, he devoted himself to writing fresh, epic material.
"I've actually been working in secret to write and record a 14-minute long cantata called 'Forbidden Melody,'" he explains. "I had to set time aside to isolate myself [and] work with really pure ideas. [The new music] is something totally different, almost like a rock opera. I'm trying to go a little bit further, really trying to come up with something new."
While much of the local garage scene sticks to the ordinary and familiar. leave it to Melton and his mates to shoot the moon and score an album in the process.
With the Vows, In the Dust
July 13, 9 p.m., $5 (day of show only)
642 Valencia, SF