The Last of the Trüe Rock Believers

Jennifer Herrema, kicking ass (Photo by John Payne)

RTX at Relax Bar, March 30

Right next door to that grubby porn store you can’t help but gawk at whenever you cruise past Hollywood and Western squats a grim & grimy li’l hellhole called Relax Bar. It is here where RTX — Jennifer Herrema’s (of Royal Trux) new band — have appropriately chosen to do a record-release show for the brand-new Western Exterminator (Drag City).

Twin themes of liberation and damnation grace Exterminator, a stash of blood-curdlingly beauteous riff, thrash, howl and roar atop lurid but moving tales of love gone real wrong, big bucks lost and found, survival of the fittest, and the agonizing ecstasy of manifest destiny. Exterminator’s raison d’être is a conviction in the revelatory catharsis of repellent splendor — all the better to convey the harshly fantastic realities of Herrema’s stories (like “Rat Will Kill,” “Last Ride,” “Balls to Pass” and the magnificently titled “Black Banana”). The band — tonight including engineer/producer Nadav Eisenman, hovering rear-stage; guitarist Brian McKinley; bassist Kurt Midness; and drummer Jaimo Welch — recorded Exterminator over the course of the last year or so, between Herrema and Eisenman’s production jobs for other artists (the Make Up, Delta 72, Palace Bros., the Kills, Bad Wizard).

The sound pays tribute to the classic rock and metal of the ’60s and ’70s, but is jacked up by an enthusiastic embrace of state-of-the-art digital racks and recording devices. Live, the band managed to convey the painful urgency of the songs, making a tiny stage and the absence of a PA actually work in their favor. The sable-strewn Herrema swigged brews and puffed endless fags, lolled about the stage, yelled her shaggy head off and made numerous casually hilarious asides about off-the-wall shit. She’s the very last of a dying breed of freakily articulate rock believers whose unfettered vocal exorcisms rasp with crackly authenticity; tonight her biker-trash metal was aided immeasurably by guitarist McKinley’s gracefully brutal Rush-Crüe-Megadeth mishmash. Machine-gunned ’cross the faces of a small, deliriously happy crowd, he squalled a joyfully sinister summation of classic heavy rock while rudely yanking it toward an uncertain future.

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