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A Noble Throttling

Qui, the Bronx, Circle Jerks, the Melvins, and the Locust

August 4 at the Echoplex

Drummer Ferdie Cuilda has been the hard-hitting, wildly entertaining backbone of 400 Blows, L.A.’s best brutalist noise-punk band, for nine long years. His mathematically complex drumming style is precisely what drew me to the band from the start, and I’ve proclaimed their greatness to anyone within earshot ever since.

Cuilda deserves a benefit show just to honor his drumming, but this show at the Echoplex was bittersweet. While on a summer U.S. tour, Cuilda woke up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the throes of respiratory failure and full-blown immune-system collapse. Close to death, his band mates rushed him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a severe case of adult chicken pox. He was quarantined for a week. With no health insurance, one of L.A.’s favorite drummers accrued $20,000 in medical bills. He continues to face a lengthy convalescence, which he will undertake in Santa Barbara. What’s most heartbreaking is that he’s decided to quit music.

The benefit was filled with Cuilda worshippers (even if the drummer himself, still recovering from his ailment, was unable to attend), and the result was both an exhilarating punk show from start to finish and a spirited opportunity for many of L.A.’s finest underground musicians to honor and support one of their own.

“For the last nine years, Ferdie’s dedicated his life to this for pretty much no money,” band mate Skot Alexander told me. “He was a postal worker for 17 years. When 400 Blows went on our first tour, they fired him. He chose music over a pension — that’s how down for this he is. The man gave a lot and didn’t get a lot in return. Everyone we asked said, ‘We’re in.’ It was the truest example of community I’ve ever witnessed in this music scene.”

There’s iron in those words. Unlike many end-of-era moments within the underground music scene, this one didn’t pass unnoticed or uncelebrated (nor, conversely, was it overhyped or unwarranted). On that night everything was in its rightful place, and moved at a blitzkrieg pace.

Qui got the night off to a skronking, howling start: Drummer Paul the Guy slayed it shirtless and wore a headset, David Yow stalked the stage like a lunatic bastard, and guitar-hero-in-waiting Matt Cronk gave the assembled audience a grand tutorial on the finer points of jazz-noise fusion. Next, the Bronx did what they do best: crushed heads. Singer Matt Caughthran wore an amazing American-flag-printed button-down shirt that, coupled with his between-song banter and manic energy, once again proved him to be one of most oddly charismatic front men in hardcore today. Per usual, the Circle Jerks had teenagers and old timers alike going apeshit, particularly when Keith Morris brought the Weirdos’ Dix Denney onstage to join in on guitar.

And then the Melvins played. Christ Almighty, there’s a reason why drummer Dale Crover and guitarist Buzz Osborne engender such rabid adoration: They deliver a perfect experience. For more than two decades the band has been without peer artistically, sonically and visually. Tonight, absent recent additions Coady Willis and Jared Warren of Big Business, King Buzzo nonchalantly plundered his way through complex guitar arrangements while Crover’s legendary gusto behind the kit shook the house and mesmerized the crowd. It was fucked-up awesome.

With furry insectoid outfits, amps spitting sheer noise-terror and spastic moves to spare, the Locust brought the night to its fittingly abrasive but upbeat end. Perhaps inspired by the playing of Crover before him, or perhaps in honor of Ferdie (or maybe due to a few too many Red Bulls, who knows?), Locust drummer Gabe Serbian hit his kit like Bruce Lee kicking ass on a dozen enemies. It was an astonishing performance, which stands to reason. It was fueled by the energy of one of the city’s greatest assets.

—Arlie John Carstens