Danger! High Voltage!

The Voltz electrify you with a minimalist garage stomp

More than a quarter century after punk happened, "Loud Fast Rules" remains the genre's major tenet, carved somewhere on a sacred tablet (or bathroom stall) between the vow "Thou Shalt Name the Velvet Underground Among Thy References" and a Misfits sticker. The execution seems pretty simple: Hit 'em with a 1-2-3 and don't stop until you're finished; the punks don't really need time to tune, do they? The spit, curse, scream--it's all in the message. Take it from first-wavers Wire, who in a 2002 backstage interview at First Avenue reminded me repeatedly of what the band's stance has been for the past 25 years. They still fancy a good racket.

"We're louder, faster!" exclaimed vocalist Colin Newman. "The new bands out there, they all wanna be the loudest and the fastest."

"Faster. Louder," echoed bassist Graham Lewis with dot-dash succinctness.

Rendered mute by the deafening music, Dave Gardner (left) gives the international hand signal for "turn the music up": The Voltz
Sean Meszaros
Rendered mute by the deafening music, Dave Gardner (left) gives the international hand signal for "turn the music up": The Voltz

The Voltz like it just as loud as their heroes do. The local garage trio pull off a convincing cover of Wire's "Sand in My Joints," both onstage and on an informal six-song demo they've floated to local press and radio (a full-length release is in he works). Unfortunately for me, they also talk as fast as they play. On an early fall evening, seated around a patio table at the Lyn-Lake Pizza Lucé, I'm caught in a crossfire of anecdotes and asides. The band's staccato conversation is hard to keep up with--it's like following a bouncing dot that leaps over the lyrics to "12XU." Their conversation is a lot like their music: a series of riffs or quick takes. Between a few cigarette drags and cell phone calls, they cover a lot of ground, discussing everything from Fear's 1981 appearance on Saturday Night Live (the first televised mosh pit--bassist Dave Gardner once skipped work to watch it on cable), to baseball (the Twins are out for the pennant at the Metrodome), to the new record from chanteuse Holly Golightly (they're excited to see her in concert). Eventually, they talk about themselves.

The trio formed around December of 2002, following the demise of drummer Misha Dashevsky's band American Monsters and Gardner's band Selby Tigers. Vocalist/guitarist Brian Shuey (of the now-defunct group International Robot) says that he called Dashevsky the minute he found out he was available. Both knew Gardner casually from the Selby Tigers days, though he's since dropped the neckerchief and Fernando Lamas affect of "Sammy G," his alter ego in that group. This time, they're all going back to the basics.

The Voltz stand by their minimalist ethos as a three-piece. Says Gardner, "We're not rockin' the calculus problems. There's no, like, symphonic approach, which is fine."

"It's difficult for people who don't get it, man," Dashevsky jokes.

"We're trying to keep it simple," Gardner replies.

"In a good live band," adds Dashevsky, "that's gonna be even more challenging."

Stripping down to the essentials has allowed the group plenty of space to spaz out. The Voltz demo is a dervish of punk agility: Shuey curls his phrases with a distressed howl that Lenny Kaye could love. "You Tear Me Up" throws out a call-and-response tête-à-tête that bounces off the walls like a green-room racquetball. Gardner takes over the dense "Wires Make the Man," grumbling like Animal from the Muppets as he topples the drums and eats his way through a bassline. Dashevsky's simple military-style patter gives Shuey's trill enough room to slip and slide down the scales of his guitar. And Shuey's bedroom serenade, "Love you in the morning/love you late at night," anchors the Voltz's cover of the Only Ones' "Oh No!," a tragicomic urban tale of young love. Gardner chirps in with the requisite backing, "Oh no!" with the precision of a poker buddy upping Shuey's ante.

Says Shuey in a rare subdued moment, "This is the first band I've been in where we've written songs together. I think it's a good idea to not necessarily be too personally attached to something. It's limiting. You want to be playing with people you trust."

Welcome to democracy. Together, these three musicians share a harmony that extends beyond common tastes in vintage vinyl or a perfect 4/4 bass-drum beat. Each contributes his own style, and those individual elements come together in agreement, sharing in a laugh. Quiet or loud, they're having fun. And that, you know, kinda rules.

 
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