Notorious Orange County experimental-punk group The Garden took a stop in Atlanta on the tour of their latest album HORSESHIT ON ROUTE 66 this past Tuesday, October 11, and I had the pleasure of seeing it live. For those unfamiliar, The Garden is composed of a pair of twin brothers, Fletcher and Wyatt Shears, who release solo music under the monikers Puzzle and Enjoy respectively. The Garden takes elements and concepts familiar to the California punk scene, and fuse them with 21st century electronic instrumentation, with a focus that is frequently restricted to drums and bass only, backed up by synthetic melodies and samples. There has truly never been a band quite like The Garden, particularly given their Kiss-esque stage theatrics and face painting paired with the eccentric neo-punk. Their past 3 records (not accounting for the various demos and bedroom mixtapes they released from 2011-2014) have each displayed a sound unique to band, whilst still standing apart from each other. Many of the tracks remain true to the punk trope of “3 minutes is too long,” with other songs containing more melodic undertones that can reach around 4 minutes. This latest record is no different, and I would argue that it is in fact their most “punk sounding” LP to date, given the synth injections and melodic choruses are kept to a minimum, if not absent all together on a few songs. The band describes their music as “Vada Vada,” which essentially is the highest degree of experimentality and intends to ignore all genre-based conventions. Obviously, it is pretty much impossible to truly make music that is 100% original and uncapable of being categorized, especially when one uses the standard major-minor key format that dominates western music. To me, “Vada Vada” is much more a mentality, and its one that Wyatt and Fletcher certainly live by. One that states, "either enjoy and appreciate what we’re doing, or get the hell out of the way."
So, the day came, and the opener was an old school, authentic punk-rock group called Flipper. I was unfamiliar with them before hand, but they received some critical acclaim in the early 80’s for classic punk albums Sex Bomb Baby and Album – Generic Flipper, that are said to have influenced numerous 90's acts such as Melvins and Nirvana. The set was about 12 songs, and the band was the perfect way to warm the crowd up. Not to mention how cool it was to see a group that was, at one time, at the forefront of one of the great revolutions in rock music.
It didn’t take long for Wyatt and Fletcher to take the stage, as their crew approached the set-up process with a similar mentality that the band approaches songwriting: fast and simple. Wyatt on drums, Fletcher on bass, a single amp, three pedals, and a big ole empty stage for the two of them to prance around on. They opened with “Haunted House on Zillow,” the debut track from the latest LP. Considering the band plays primarily very short songs, I’m only going to hit the highlights, since the setlist contained over 30 tracks, and it was hard at times to tell when a song ended and another began, regardless of how many times I had heard it before. It didn’t take the pair long to get into hits, as the third song in the setlist was iconic track “Call this # Now,” followed soon after by a personal favorite: “AMPM Truck” that really got the crowd going. I observed the show from the right balcony, for those of you familiar with Heaven at the Masquerade’s setup, so I had a good view of the stage, and an even better view of the mosh pit. It certainly reached up to 150 people actively moshing, with an additional 500 tightly packed individuals on the ground floor surrounding. The rest of us who arrived late were forced up to the balcony to round out the 1000 in attendance at the sold-out show. The only draw back of my chosen viewpoint was that I was unable to see Wyatt on drums, so I was forced to walk around a few times to catch a glimpse of the master at work, because he is a master. I suppose I never thought about it much while listening to their music, as there are so many sounds and things happening packed into short tracks, but when seen live, its impossible not to notice. Wyatt Shears is a FANTASTIC drummer, and Fletcher Shears is a FANTASTIC bassist. Speed, accuracy, and creativity are skills they both possess, not exclusively good looks and weird dances. I would love to see the two of them swap instruments, as both of them have played bass and drums in studio and live.
The band played on, ramping up the energy with each song. Wyatt took breaks from the drums occasionally to assist Fletcher on vocals and dancing/stomping, namely on some classic songs like “This Could Build Us A Home” and “Stallion.” After a few more tracks, The Garden rounded out their set with the title track from the new album and walked off. Obviously, they were immediately met with “encore” chants, and they returned for three more songs, including the classic “Thy Mission” (minus the Mac Demarco feature), “Clay,” and “Banana Peel,” which resulted in quite a few bananas being thrown on stage. Fletcher was kind enough to give them back to the crowd, and a vicious cycle began. The band was applauded once again, and the electric night was over. Final totals from the evening: two bands, 1000 fans, 50ish crowd surfs (one from a guy pushing 60), about 200 painted faces, eight stage bananas, and two court jesters.