It was all over but the bleeding in less than 20 minutes. Dead microphones lay scattered across the stage, snapped strings curled like razor wire off dented and discarded guitars, and a small crowd of onlookers stood and dazedly wondered, "What the hell was that?"
That, ladies and gentlemen, was the Icarus Line.
In three years, these five young post-punk fireballs from L.A.--still barely old enough to buy beer--have shown a cursed tendency to overstep the bounds of prudence into chaotic realms of recklessness. Like the rash mythological figure from whom they take their name, the members of the Icarus Line know where to stop--they'd just rather not. They let a rebellious inertia carry them to heights from which they can only return to earth in a ribbon of flames.
So be it. If nothing else, this tenacity makes for a spectacular live show. For the audience, at least.
"It's always the same--having your hands always torn up, so every show the wounds open up and blood goes everywhere," says guitarist Aaron North. "Always having bruises everywhere. The worst is having the bottom of your feet all bruised up on tour, and it being painful just to walk."
"We feel like breaking up before every show," vocalist Joe Cardamone says, "but by the end of the set we remember why we do this. We know nothing else; it's what we do."
That's a pretty common conceit in the world of rock. But for Cardamone, it's a fact: His first band formed in fifth grade to the bipolar strum of Nirvana's "Lithium." High school saw the band flux and evolve into the Kanker Sores, but when drummer Tim Childs died in a 1997 car crash, the Kanker Sores era ended.
The surviving members--Cardamone, North, guitarist Alvin DeGuzman, bassist Lance Arnao and new drummer Jeff Watson--adopted a uniform of black shirts and red ties, relaunched themselves as the Icarus Line and released a handful of 7-inch singles before focusing their acidic attack on this year's Mono album.
While early recordings were certainly raw, they failed to show the Icarus Line's ability to lunge from stiletto-sharp post-punk thrusts to arty-smarty metal aggression and infinite feedback cacophony. Mono finally does justice to the band's morphing hardcore maelstroms, and the album has people scraping for comparisons. Some hear Drive Like Jehu in the serrated guitars and glass-cracking screams. Others love Icarus Line's Refused-like tendency to switch styles in an eye's twitch. Still others hear a contemporary Birthday Party in the howls and impolite dissonance. And many can't help but think of At the Drive-In after witnessing the kamikaze mania of the live shows.
As good as Mono can be, it's on stage where the more obvious influences are distilled into a singular corrosive potion. Does it burn? You bet. Which can on occasion lead to painful--and sometimes painfully short--sets.
"Last time we played San Diego, we were really late to the show, and to make things worse we are hated by just about every person who goes to the oh-so-hip Che Cafe," recalls Cardamone. "We set up, played two short punk songs, knocked shit over and everyone in the room just stood there trying hard not to notice us. It was one of my favorite shows we ever played."
So nix the hipsters--who does like the Icarus Line?
"The people that come to our shows tend to vary in style and race but usually tend to be around our age," Cardamone says. "I really like the people that come to our shows, 'cause they seem like the misfits of the rock scene. It's not really a big fashion show. Just random-looking people that like our music. It really seems like they are there 'cause they want to be, not because we're 'in' or someone told 'em we were the cool band to be into."
[Note to self: Do not tell people the Icarus Line is cool.]
And those snazzy red ties, the group insists, are an "anti-fashion statement" so people don't obsess about what flashy plastic pants or hepcat band T-shirt they're wearing.
"If it got to the point where people thought we were Slipknot or something and couldn't perform without it, we'd ditch it," says North.
And then? What keeps the Icarus Line from crashing entirely? If their doomed flights are so painful, why continue?
North sums it up in five easy words: "Poverty, pigs and white noise."
Pine Street Theater, 215 SE 9th Ave., 231-1530. 9 pm Thursday, Aug. 2. $8+ advance (Fastixx).
Don't try this at home, kids: The Icarus Line was able to scam its way onto a bill with Bad Brains by telling the promoter they were signed to Epitaph. They weren't.
The Icarus Line recently toured the U.K. and recorded songs for John Peel at the BBC studios.