I saw GAVLAK recently at the California Institute of Abnormalarts, a fascinating venue that feels like a museum of creepy dark mortality. A huge stone sculpture of a skull looks down upon the outer courtyard that wraps around the building for mingling amidst bizarre artifacts like mummified human remains and Carnivale-like statues and paintings. It’s a refreshing truthful change of pace from the delusionary world of immortal youth in LA.
Which is why it was the perfect place to see the EP Release of the punk rock band, Gavlak, a gritty, gutsy performance with Michael Lee bellowing beautifully on lead vocals, Ben Stelle plucking away clearly on bass (and cowriter of the music with Lee), Steve Watson playing a mean guitar, John Steward banging away gloriously on drums (He plays for Fishbone, and was helping them out). The drummer on the EP album is Fredo Ortiz, a previous Beastie Boys drummer, who was on tour with Gogol Bordello at the time of this show.
Full disclosure, Michael Lee is my friend. But also full disclosure, I don’t like loud banging music and I especially do not like live performances, I am a studio music lover. AND I have no problem telling Michael if I don’t like his stuff. We critique each other’s art all the time. But in this case, I truly enjoyed the experience. Yes, I wore ear plugs to stave off deafness, and yes, I was too damned tired to hang around after the gig, since I want my sleep and late hours for rock and roll are not a mid-life crisis of temptation for this boy.
But the performance was really quite amazing. These guys were real pros. The playing was tight, and Lee’s performance as the lead vocalist was truly entertaining. The guy knows how to scream with passion, move with the music and interact with the crowd. And he really does have a great voice for this stuff, and he has the persona of a star up there, which of course makes his wife and me laugh and shake our heads with amusement, since we know he’s just dust.
And that’s the point of the band that makes it transcend your typical punk rock band. Their music feels the pain of existence with a true honesty, but hints at redemption, unlike the nihilism of so many other punks. The lyrics are poetic and gutsy, and there is melody that keeps you humming the tunes. No clashing dissonance of absurdity here. This music is more the ancient text of Ecclesiastes set to catchy music. Wisdom wrapped in suffering.
Their cover songs were truly fun and memorable. Sedated (Ramones), All Day and All of the Night (Kinks), Paint It Black (Rolling Stones), Seven Nation Army (White Stripes). But my personal favorite was Come Together (The Beatles). What can I say, Beatles Bias.
But to be honest, their original material was easily of equal calibre.
And since I have the recorded EP, I will comment more on that because the lyrics are clearer, the music sharper and tighter to my studio loving ears.
1. In the Pain. This is the one I can’t get out of my head. My personal favorite. Singing Gavlak’s crooning coolness as I drive in my car. But it’s also the one I most relate to. It’s a gutsy lament of how we try to hide our internal suffering, yet that is precisely the thing that may wake us up to our true need and hope. It is within that pain that we can actually meet our Maker. “In my pain. I feel you.” Like I said, baby, a musical Ecclesiastes. Damn. This is my friend. But he’s actually got a great voice that I like to listen to along with my few other hard rock songs (I’m an old timer: Zeppelin, Queen, Aerosmith) In fact, in some ways this music reminds of that spirit.
2. Nothing I can do. A song about free will, and how we can’t make someone see what they don’t want to see or understand. It’s really a ballad-like lament of resignation to our inevitable finite humility. Simple, yet profound.
3. Bag O’ Tricks. This one is my favorite for lyrics because it really addresses the futility of the atheist worldview of materialism. It’s philosophical, clever and passionately pure, all in one. The atheist worldview reduces the human experience to meaninglessness, which is self-evidentially absurd to the soul that longs for transcendence.
You’re a skin sack full of bones.
You’re a meat rack on a stick,
a bucket full of oozing sludge,
a biochemical bag of tricks.
You’ve never really made a choice
and you’ve never really had a thought.
That’s not how the whole thing works.
Isn’t that what you’ve been taught?
But he doesn’t leave us wallowing in such insane irrationality. He screams his hint toward redemption as loud as his mockery of godlessness.
You think you know who you are?
I tell you, you better think again.
Not a waste of time and space.
You’ve got something within.
4. Monster. The music begins with an eerie impending doom, as he sings of the “monster in your head,” a revelation of the original sin of human nature. Man is basically bad, not basically good, as delusional humanism keeps repeating to its hollow-souled adherents. It’s only by facing our own depravity that we can begin to find our way out of the bondage to that creature of the dark residing in all our souls.
The things you say and all the things you do
they come from somewhere, somewhere deep inside of you.
What’s hidden there is a fright to see.
It’s just your monster. It looks just like you and me.
5. My Demon. This song is just cool. It’s a catchy riff about being haunted by the demon of our own choices that lead to the consequences of our suffering. We face our comeuppance if we fail to conquer that demon. Because it is coming for us…
Lunatic ahead is aiming straight for me.
Where did he escape? Am I the same as he?
See my demon seething in his cold pale skin.
Eyes of darkness gaze from sorrow deep within.
There is “only one that can make us whole.”
6. Deluded. This is another song of resignation and regret reminiscent of “Nothing I Can Do.” But in this case, it sounds like a deeply personal experience that the writer is somewhat haunted by, trying to sing his justification to cleanse himself. The guttural painful screaming of “I did not backstab you!” carries this home.
The Gavlak EP has strong catchy music, vocals full of passion and character, and a powerful combination of gritty gutsy honesty wrapped in a poetic redemptive hope.
You can hear some of their songs and buy them here at ReverbNation. (At this point, there is Bag O’ Tricks and Deluded. I assume there will be more available eventually.
Their Facebook Page is here. Like it and find out when they will have their songs available for purchase.
I just did.