By Seamus Simpson
I first heard of Codeine when I was in high school reading a copy of SPIN that described the group as “a band that makes Joy Division look downright happy.” I knew then that with my love of all things Joy Division I must seek out this band. So I promptly went and bought Frigid Stars the next day and fell in love. Their soaring highs on extreme lows with intermittent bursts of energy had me from the first note. This album became my go-to album when I was feeling down or just wanted to meditate on my crummy existence as a teenager. It was also one of the albums that showed me that Sub Pop was more than capable of outlasting their grunge roots. When I heard Codeine were doing a small tour for their reissues I clamored at a chance to see this band again. I was lucky enough to see them once many moons ago at a seminal punk club in Houston called the Axiom. After conferring with friends there seems to be a hazy recollection of who opened for them. All these years I was sure it was The Mike Gunn, but I was told by their lead singer that I had a faulty memory which would not be the first time I have heard that.
With a head full of steam and a belly full of liquor I headed out to the Echoplex to see Codeine play their mix of melancholy. To the LA Metro my friend and I went. I was a little bummed that the street prophets were not out in full force as usual. Nothing better than crazy homeless person covered in feces trying to espouse the mighty word of the lord to make your evening commute a little bit more interesting. Especially when sipping whiskey from a flask which always gives me the courage/ stupidity to try to interact with them. I digress though.
When I showed up Electric Flower Group was already on stage and in full force--or as full force as two people can muster. Of course, when one of those people is Imaad Wasif on guitar it’s hard not to take notice. You may know him from his many other acts: ( Lowercase, Alaska!, Lou Barlow The New Folk Implosion, Grim Tower, Yeah Yeah Yeahs--ed.) but this was little different than most of his other acts. It had a very psych rock feel indicative of the Trance Syndicate label out of Austin. Feel free to look up the label to see what I am talking about as they have lots of good stuff and great bands. All in all they were entertaining, but like all two piece bands I see I always think “they would sound so much better with a bass player,” but that’s me. I was impressed by their drummer’s 28-inch bass drum. Bass drums of that size always sound so good. (Looks like it really is Bass Player Summer: all you guys are going to step out of the shadow of the pretty guitarist and finally be appreciated. You might even get laid. –ed.)
Next up was Mark Etizel whose name I have heard thrown around a lot in certain circles, but I have never really listened to much. I have to say I can see why I never listened much now. It’s not that he was bad by any stretch of the imagination, more that it’s not really my thing. I had a very The Commitments sort of vibe going. Like something my mother would enjoy and I would listen to with her pretending I liked it in order to placate her and keep drinking for free. Very old school white R&B mixed with a dash of soul.
Needless to say I sauntered out to the back patio and had two or three more beers…maybe more but who keeps count of that sort of thing. I feel like I got in an argument with a random stranger about the current state of music in America, but I can’t be sure that it happened with a person or if it was just a massive inner dialogue. Either way I know I won.
Finally after waiting through the bustling R&B Codeine took to the stage and fittingly opened with the monumental first track off of Frigid Stars the song “D” which just stated that these guys while a little older had not lost a step at all. It was pure rapture for me. The incredible fuzz of the bass, the slow but driving beat of the drums, mixed with the quiet restraint of the guitar is such a magical mix. They get tagged as a slow-core all the time but I relate that to bands like Bedhead which are more bore-core than anything else and Codeine is anything but. Even with their tempered tempos they bring an intense energy to the stage that almost pummels you into submission. This really came to a head with songs like “Cave-In” and “Pickup Song” which go from moments of almost mouse-like silence to just exploding in your face like a bomb. It was so amazing to hear these songs live again. To see a band of this quality in these times when most of music is dominated by folk rock and dropped beats ala dubstep reminds me that three guys with a drum, bass, and a guitar can still entertain on such a visceral level. The high point of the show for me had to be “Pea” which is a song that has always stuck with me and I still sing to myself when I am alone in that small little place that we all have within us.
This is a band that probably should have never left, but in a way it makes me appreciate them more knowing that I will never see it again. It will stick with me a something special and for a fleeting moment I wasn’t a jaded adult, but that kid from high school who found a little band from New York that spoke to him when nothing else did.