Sonos Studio, Los Angeles, January 24
“Like the movie?” asks Merchandise frontman Carson Cox of the stock-still crowd, gesturing at the video screen behind him and his band. The punters shrug and carry on Instagramming their free drinks. “Come on,” he urges with a twinge of desperation. “Say something…”
You get the feeling that corporate gigs with open bars and West Hollywood poseur fashion crowds aren’t really Merchandise’s bag. Tonight’s show is a far cry from the crazed storage-unit parties where they hammered out a name for themselves in their native Florida, and it’s easy to understand Carson’s frustration. Although the audience become progressively more responsive throughout the show, why they aren’t peeling off layers of clothing like they’ve suddenly found themselves in a late-’90s hip-hop promo as soon as the seductive opening chords of the Cult-ish ‘Anxiety’s Door’ kick in is an utter mystery.
Sporting a shaven head that can only be described as ‘a bit prison’, Carson’s current look betrays his hardcore roots. “We’re not a punk rock band any more,” he says at one point, but turn down the mellifluous mangle of 1980s jangle-pop and post-punk prog thrills, and you could be watching Henry Rollins and Black Flag in their raw-powered prime. The band, now bolstered by live drummer Elsner Nino, are dressed entirely in black and Carson grimaces madly while punching a clenched fist into the air, the bulging veins in his neck looking fit to burst. “Our official hashtag for the evening is #shootjunkfindgod,” he deadpans after a furious ‘Time’, layering terse romance and razor-wire emoting over recoiling, echo-chamber guitars, like Billy Idol’s lost Studio 1 reggae phase.
Midway through the set, the Coachella line-up is announced, leading to a further bustle of smartphone checking and keypad tapping. Someone yells out to ask if Merchandise will be playing the festival. “Yeah, we’re gonna be on the Coachella cruise,” grins Carson. “It’s gonna be us and Jimmy Buffett.” He might be joking, but with their growing collection of killer tunes, including the warped majesty of tonight’s devastating ‘Become What You Are’, high-profile festival sets and the stardom that comes along with them can’t be far off.