There’s dirty rock and then there’s dirty rock. The kind where everyone is blind with sweat and crawling around on their hands and knees, ducking swings from the audience and rolling around like dogs in the glittering brown shag of broken beer bottles. The guitarist has three strings left when the singer tackles him right off the stage, but instead of falling apart the band members seem to reabsorb all this kinetic energy and peel off three more songs before the drummer kicks his kit apart and everyone—band members, audience, the poor sound guy trying to keep his mics from getting smashed in the fracas—winds up tangled together like a pile of drunk snakes.
And then there’s the blood. All the good bands wear their split lips and bloody noses like badges of honor, but when the Candy Snatchers don’t manage to abrade or avulse or otherwise bang themselves up in the natural course of detonating 15 garage punk scorchers in 25 minutes, they’re not above carving themselves up on purpose with whatever’s at hand. I’ve seen it happen. The time before last when they played in Missoula, the show was almost over and no one had started bleeding yet when guitarist Matt Odietus scooped up a sliver of beer bottle and rubbed it into his forehead just below the hairline. A simple enough trick (and not, as you might think, especially injurious or painful) but an effective one, too—especially when the blood is thinner from drinking and pumping triple-time from the exertions of playing so much so fast. Within seconds, bright fingers of blood were dripping down his face and off his chin.
Everyone yelled and cheered. It was what they’d paid to see. Mind you, not everyone is easily impressed by cheesy stage gimmicks like these, especially if all the welters of real or fake blood only serve to divert attention from something lacking in the music itself. But then, the Candy Snatchers don’t have anything to cover up with masochistic special effects like these—effects which, when you think about it, are sort of the tragic moustaches of the rock world.
They do it because it’s fun, and people have come to expect it from them. What impresses me about the Candy Snatchers is that they could keep all their blood inside and you’d still have a band that mops the floor with nearly every other band they’ve played with. They are just that good—you have to see ‘em to believe ‘em.
And they’re consistently upper, too. In the past eight years, the Norfolk, Va. foursome (on tour, a fivesome that includes ex-Chrome Cranks, ex-Murder Junkies, ex-Sugar Shock guitarist William Weber) have left a trail of fiery singles—well over a dozen—that cram an intimidating amount of punk rock blitz into originals that rarely exceed three minutes in length. Their choice in covers, too, suggests that, all bleeding aside, they’ve got a confident grasp on their own strengths (the acrobatic howl of singer Larry May and the scabrous essence of ‘70s guitar crudity by Odietus) as well as a keen ear for the good stuff in three decades of charged-up garage d’or: “Murder City Nights,” by Radio Birdman. “Nice and Sleazy,” by the Stranglers. “Lost and Found,” by the Saints. Even the Ramones’ ballad, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” sounds sordid and creepy at the hands of the Candy Snatchers. It’s like they’re trying to play nice but can’t help but sound like they’re singing to jail bait.