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Through the muck

Finding the hooks of the Rubs

The Rubs are shabby and amok with hooks. Photo credit: Andrew Lee

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Even if it wasn't always explicit, the punk explosion of the late ‘70s always shared a kindred spirit in the birth of rock in the ‘50s. While the squalls of sound were certainly more extreme, there was always a sense of looking back - just further back than the bloated music that had precipitated punk in the first place. Yes, punk rockers were reacting to the MOR output of the mid-'70s, as well as the gigantic, overproduced (according to them) sound of bands like Pink Floyd, but there was a tacit affection directed to the likes of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.

It's easy to forget how game-changing the music of the ‘50s was, how they perfected the overdriven guitars and two-minute bursts of pure excitement. In the late ‘70s and into the ‘80s, musicians frustrated with the fussiness of the music industry ended up creating a pastiche of ‘50s rock and roll and the new age on no s*** given. Chicago outfit the Rubs captures this feeling, most notably on "Until He's Mine," which subconsciously recalls "Please Please Me," the song that became one of the first bits of transition out of the stasis that the ‘50s has become. It's become a cliché that every decade of pop begins with a sort of reboot - a way to reset the worst parts of the past 10 years, and a way to incorporate the better aspects into the next 10 years.

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, thanks to movements like C86 and the power pop groups, this sound had become synthesized into a mixture of the sweet harmonies and fuzzy garage sensibilities that the underground punk bands had been cultivating for years. The Rubs access this era of alternative music, bringing with them the cumulative sounds of three decades, neatly avoiding the glossy garage of the past 15 years. Yes, the melodies are strong and upfront, but the playing and performances are sloppy enough to believe that all of this is coming straight from the hearts of lifetime partiers who have simply absorbed music through osmosis and then spat it out through shabby amplifiers in a million basements.

On the songs featured on their most recent LP, The Rubs Are Trash - which is, in itself, a throwback to the fashion of naming albums in the ‘50s and ‘60s - the Rubs sometimes sound like cassettes that have been warped in the sun. If you've ever dug through a yard sale and stumbled across a pile of 10-cent albums, only to take them home and hear every crack and warble that has been accumulated over years in storage, you'll know the feeling of coming across a ragged gem. Some of the Rubs' songs are distorted to the point of fascination. Digging through the muck to find the indelible hook is part of their appeal.

And, to be clear, the Rubs are in no short supply of hooks. Buried under several feet of distortion, the melodies come burbling up to the top, like a tomato sauce that splatters on you when it comes to boiling. The Rubs Are Trash is a tar pit bubbling up, full of dinosaur bones lurking beneath the surface. When a hook catches you, it comes out of left field, and all you want to do is keep on digging. Sometimes these hooks recall early rock, and sometimes they just speed on by like proper punk, but there's a shot of adrenaline around every corner, just waiting to grab you by the ear drums and drag your feet out to middle of the floor.

THE RUBS, Bob's Java Jive, w/ Under the Bodhi Tree, the Gerbil Turds, Dogger, Sat., Aug. 1, 8 p.m., $5, 2102 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma, 253.475.9843

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