NOISE: Chavez lives, live


Guardian contributor Michael Harkin caught Chavez's reunion performance at Slim's on Dec. 30. Here's his review:


Chavez’s return to playing live shows certainly isn’t a comeback of the “we were once stars, and are now in need of money” variety. The ear-ringing muscularity of their take on ‘90s indie rock could conceivably have found a place in the popular consciousness in 1995-1996, but somehow it didn’t work out that way. Very few below-the-radar rock bands sound like Chavez anymore: when the word “indie” gets dropped, people tend to think of the Shins before they think of a band like, say, Shellac. Whatever the status of their popularity, the melodic, often hummable force of Chavez is brutal in the most wonderful way, and San Francisco was lucky enough to experience the flattening steamroll of that force once again.

At Slim’s on Dec. 30, vocalist and guitarist Matt Sweeney, like most of the band, maintained a pretty quiet onstage disposition: why talk when you can play to a big crowd? Going so far as to shush well-meaning guitarist Clay Tarver when he started chatting up San Antonio with the audience, he made clear this was clearly a professional affair. Sweeney -- who released Superwolf (Drag City) in 2005 with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and a onetime member of Billy Corgan’s short-lived Zwan -- is the band’s most famous face. Chavez’s other members are a bit less known, although not entirely: drummer James Lo played in Live Skull, and everybody’s heard of bass player Scott Marshall’s dad -- yep, Garry Marshall, creator of Happy Days.

The opening pair of “Top Pocket Man” and “Break Up Your Band” ensured that nothing had been lost in the decade since the world last heard from these guys. Sampling their two full-lengths as well as some single and B-side tracks, the show was a surprising 75 minutes, and any owl would have called it a “hoot.” It was stunning how loud and fearless they were up there, and they certainly drew a big crowd. People sang along with should-have-been hits like “Unreal is Here,” and the band got lotsa cheers for closing with “Flight ’96,” a song which was able to…ahem…soar far more than on record, running a good four minutes longer than its recorded length and reaching arena rock heights in its closing moments. Real heroic all around!

Along with Tarver’s frequently raised fist, one of the more noteworthy sights onstage was the glittery drum-kit of “the” James Lo, who wore a suit and received grandiose introduction from Tarver at least three times during the course of the show. Lo’s drumming proves the gig-goer proverb that the drummer is the best person to watch onstage. He’s the pointedly on point, duly miked machine at Chavez’s core: indeed, he is the fuckin’ man, man!

Although no new material surfaced at this show, an overheard conversation between Tarver and a fan let on that a few new songs had been recorded. We’re all blessed if we get the chance to hear more from these wholly underrated champs.