The San Diego band Crocodiles tore into the Black Cat on Saturday, turned the amps up to “freaking deafening,” and played a perfect, tight 40-minute set - then they left the stage, wandered back to the bar, and that was the end of the show. Unlike the reaction from the audience after Jack White’s now-infamous similar early exit this weekend, the sparse but dedicated crowd for Crocodiles seemed at first confused, then resigned to wander back through the club to look for members of both Crocodiles and opener Punks from Mars, and just hang out for a while.
The first three songs were drenched in enough reverb to crush your ribs, and the band members spent the opening 10 minutes primarily with their backs to the audience, playing guitars straight into the amplifiers and messing with the levels and floor pedals to increase the wall of noise. Crocodiles focuses on an insane amount of distortion, and sound like Echo and the Bunnymen dragged ass-backward through a Joy Division filter - and it’s not a coincidence that Echo’s first album was named “Crocodiles.” Every song of Saturday’s abbreviated set was solid, but you’re left thinking "wait, what does that sound like?" at the end of every one. They do what they do very, very well, but the influences are obvious. Theirs is not exactly an original sound, but the songs are excellent, and the band is great live. It’s as if the good bands of the 80s all mushed together to spawn Crocodiles outright to pick up where they left off.
The stage was lit by only a few bare red light bulbs, and it was honestly refreshing to see a band concentrated on noise, noise, noise, and skunked-up fuzz -- no efforts were spent on light shows or lasers, and it was almost too damn dark to even see -- but there was a comforting amount of crap going on onstage. It was like floating in a dark bathtub full of feedback, and frontmen Charles Rowell and Brandon Welchez kept up a quick pace throughout the noisy haze. When a discernible melody came out of the mess, it seemed like a life raft in a sea of reverb -- “Endless Flowers,” the gorgeous title track from their new album, was so damn joyous and melodic that it shook the audience out of a stupor and from then on the show took on a rollicking, thrashy tone.
Keyboardist Robin Eisenberg kept her dark hair in her face throughout the night, and switched back and forth between a straight synthesizer sound to an organ for various tracks. Toward the end of the set, things slowed up a bit with “All My Hate and My Hexes are for You” -- a crowd favorite from 2010’s Sleep Forever, which comes close to feeling like a sweet love song until up you realize what they are singing about. By the end of the set, Crocodiles had peeled even the farthest outliers off of barstools and into the middle of the room for a minor-league thrash pit. The final chords of the night were a full-frontal aural assault, and the band left all their guitars on with all amps turned to 11 as they left the stage, so that even with no band onstage it was still a noisy freaking onslaught until the din finally died out on its own.
While the blow back from Jack White’s New York tantrum has been near deafening, the crowd at Crocodiles was calm, shrugged off the confusion, and went to buy another round of beer. It brings up the question of what do performers actually owe us at a show? Is 40 minutes of outstanding better than 70 minutes of filler and throw away tracks from a yet-to-be-released album? If band puts out tickets for $40, and you buy them off a scalper for $100, does the band owe it to you to make up the difference? Crocodiles played a tight, loud, fantastic set, but it was incredibly short, particularly for a Saturday night. Is it any of our business why? That’s a discussion for another piece - suffice to say that for Crocodiles at the Black Cat, ticket prices were affordable, hard-core fans had plenty of space to thrash around to a distilled selection of solid songs, and we all got a good quick overview of what the band is capable of doing. And that seems like enough to ask.