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Live & Local

Live & Local: Fear Snakeface at The White Rabbit

Photo: Photos by Steven Gilmore, License: N/A

Photos by Steven Gilmore

Sid St. Onge

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photos by Steven Gilmore

Philip Luna

The two-piece rock band format didn’t start with the White Stripes or The Black Keys. Back in the late ’80s, the Flat Duo Jets were already experimenting with the guitar-drums formula, and years later Death from Above 1979 would release three EPs and a studio album with only drums and bass. But let’s face it: until recently, two-piece rock bands were a rarity. It wasn’t until Jack and Megan White made it big that legions of rock duos decided to have a go at it.

Nothing wrong with that, but most of those who can play can’t write, and vice versa. And unless the guitarist does the White thing by plugging the guitar in such a way that you can hear the bass lines, I can’t help but miss the fat sound of a four-stringer.

After a brief life as a trio, add Fear Snakeface to the roster of bands that do without the bass — whether due to laziness, practicality, or aesthetic concerns. It's a damn shame, considering they’re one of the few local acts that have the songs and the attitude to deliver dynamite albums and concerts.

Their 30-minute set Sunday at the White Rabbit (opening for the Lemonheads; yes, those Lemonheads) was a concentrated sample of what they call “hitting a cat with a bag of nails” (a figurative cat, that is, but “the nails are real”). Phillip Luna hit the snare hard and managed to always be on time even when it looked as if he was about to fall down. Guitarist Sid St. Onge offered his usual disarmingly punkish, slightly off-key DIY delivery displaying a disinterest in anything that could distract him from his direct guitar attack. Not only do these guys not use a bass, but St. Onge, unlike most guitarists, doesn’t have 18,525 pedals in front of him; he's got but two, and he uses them sparingly. They don’t mind making mistakes, either, and that’s what I love about them: they know they have the songs to get away with murder.

The pair went through five songs from their self-titled 2009 album (available on iTunes) and four unreleased tracks to be included in the new one coming up in May: “November Michigan,” “Don’t Have Fear” (a great track that begs for vocal harmonies), “Long Enough” (begs for bass), and “Sunset Down.” They dedicated the now classic “Houston Trip” to Whitney Houston, and closed the show with the even more classic “Ochy Chornya.”

Luna also played bass on the 2009 album, but for their next one we won’t even get that.

“No bass anymore,” he said after the show. “This is it. We’re a duo.”

Oh, well. I’m willing to forgive them for that, as long as they keep coming up with songs like these.

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